Crime doesn’t pay – not on an island like Rarotonga.
That’s the message from Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott, who discovered one of her top resort managers had her fingers in the till.
Scott yesterday sent a warning to hotel workers around the country: “It is not worth it,” she said. “It is a small island and your reputation and future employment prospects are at stake.”
One of her former managers at the Muri Beach Club Hotel has been sentenced to two years and two months in prison by Justice Dame Judith Potter, at the High Court.
Nani Terina Teiri-Akaraiti was convicted of theft as a servant, and forgery.
She sent her own message, using her sentencing to complain of resorts “taking advantage of employees” and of having to work up to 80-hour weeks – an allegation that was rejected by the Crown prosecutor.
From November 2017 until March this year, Teiri-Akaraiti had been employed at Muri Beach Club Hotel as a wedding and events manager, tasked with managing local and international customers for their special occasions.
Their fees were supposed to be paid directly to the hotel – but instead, on 55 occasions, she directed customers to pay the money into her bank accounts. She had five accounts, in Rarotonga and New Zealand.
In total, they paid $150,000 to Teiri-Akaraiti; she then paid some of this money to the hotel’s account.
Justice Potter said the hotel’s general manager Liana Scott discovered the $60,000 misappropriation.
To Teiri-Akaraiti’s credit, when she was confronted she paid back $30,000. But the remaining $30,000 is yet to be paid.
Justice Potter said the defendant used various methods to cover her tracks, and to manipulate her employers.
Crown Law prosecutor Jana Epati argued for a custodial sentence of 3 or 4 years.
Defence lawyer Keykore Ahsin apologised to the court on Teiri-Akaraiti's behalf.
She was remorseful, he said, but also wished to give a message to all employers.
Teiri-Akaraiti's message was for all employers to take care of their employees, to value their services especially those who go the extra mile for the reputation of the company. Employers took advantage of employees, she alleged.
Ahsin said his client sacrificed her time from her home and family, working 70-80 hour weeks and paid for only 40 hours.
Epati refuted these claims: she said there were no evidence of mistreatment by the employer.
And Justice Potter said Teiri-Akaraiti’s expression of remorse, through her lawyer, was too little and too late. She showed no real remorse, the judge said, and had no explanation for her offending.
It wasn’t her first time: the defendant had a previous conviction in 2008 for a similar charge, and it was disappointing that the non-custodial sentenced imposed then did not deter her from committing a similar offence.
On the charge of forgery, Teiri-Akaraiti advised the hotel general manager that she would get Bluesky vouchers for gift packs at an event at no cost.
She got $940 worth of the vouchers and then forged Scott’s signature for Island Night passes to the hotel. Only $120 worth of Bluesky vouchers were given to the hotel for gift packs.
Yesterday, Liana Scott said Teiri-Akaraiti held an important position at the hotel – one that required a great deal of trust, both from clients and themselves.
The deception and misappropriation of funds revealed were premeditated and calculated, she said.
“Her confidence and arrogance in deceiving and defrauding the Muri Beach Club Hotel is very upsetting. We feel betrayed, hurt and angry.
“I am shocked to hear her ‘justification’ for her actions, particularly as we looked after Terina very well and apart from her salary, we contributed towards her phone bill, paid her a Christmas bonus and provided financial assistance when needed.”
She said Muri Beach Club Hotel placed a lot of trust in Teiri-Akaraiti and she breached that trust.
“What this proves, and my message to employers, is no matter whether you think you can place absolute trust in an employee, strict procedures and checks should always be practiced to deter any temptation.
“One cannot just take an applicant’s CV for granted, but should check with previous employers and the Police for any criminal wrongdoing.
“My position as general manager of the Muri Beach Club Hotel is no different from that of Tourism Council president. Employers need always to ensure that the strictest systems are in place and that the employees know it.”
Judge Potter ordered Teiri-Akaraiti to repay the remaining $30,000 to the hotel.