Law Firm Administrator Charmaine Herron Stole $400K From Payroll, ‘Betrayed Everyone’

A disgraced law firm administrator who stole about $400,000 from her employer over a decade says she did it to “save my family”.

However, a judge says Charmaine Herron, 44, was fueled by greed and her inability to fund a lifestyle she couldn’t afford.

Herron, 44, looked frail and sobbed in the dock as she was jailed for three years at the Christchurch District Court on Wednesday.

Before the hearing, Herron told Fairfax Media she stole from the law firm, which has name suppression to protect its reputation, because she had been overwhelmed with debt after a marriage break-up.

“All I wanted to do was save my family,” she said.

“I’m really sorry that I betrayed everyone.

“I hated every minute of it, but it was a means to an end.”

Judge Alistair Garland told the court on Wednesday he believed Herron’s offending was premeditated and fueled by “greed not need”.

“Your motivation appears to have been lifestyle choices.”

Herron, a mother of two, was the human resources manager in charge of payroll at the law firm for about 10 years.

The court heard Herron falsified 148 payroll entries over nine years, which meant $400,969 was paid into her account.

She resigned last year after partners at the firm indicated she was under investigation for fraud.

Defence counsel, Glenn Dixon, said Herron co-operated with authorities after the offending was discovered.

She had sold her house and paid back about $170,000 of the money she had stolen, Dixon said.

This left $230,000 in unpaid reparations.

Dixon sought final suppression of her name on the grounds of extreme hardship.

The Crown opposed the application and Judge Garland agreed.

He refused final suppression because publication would not cause Herron extreme hardship, even though she reacted to stress with attempts at self-harm. The sentencing was told of repeated suicide attempts.

“I am aware that your difficulties are well known to the health professionals and you have been receiving appropriate care.”

The personal factors she highlighted did not outweigh the principle of open justice, the judge said.

“If I was to suppress your name … then future employers would be unlikely to know of your dishonesty unless of course you disclosed it.”

Herron’s offending had a significant impact on the firm, both financially and because of the additional controls it had to put in place, Judge Garland said.

It now relied less on the trust placed on staff.

Judge Garland suppressed the name of the firm because publication would likely cause it further financial loss.

Herron pleaded guilty in November to two charges of theft by a person in a special relationship. She told a probation officer before the sentencing that she decided to steal from the employer to “keep everyone happy” and ensure that a family business would succeed. When her marriage collapsed, she found “other uses” for the money she stole, the judge said.

The offending was discovered when the firm got in another person to audit the systems in Herron’s absence.

Crown prosecutor Anselm Williams said her previous good character did not warrant a reduction in the sentence because the offending went on for so many years.

Judge Garland allowed a reduction in the jail term because of Herron’s co-operation, remorse and her payment towards reparation.

As well as the jail term her ordered that she pay $50,000 towards the remaining reparation when she gets work after her release.

He noted that her new job with a different employer did not involve handling money.

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