Slot machine-addicted travel agent who stole nearly $ 670,000 from jailed pandemic-affected vacationers

A pokie-addicted travel agent has been jailed for stealing refunds from disappointed travelers who canceled vacations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Annette Roberts, 58, cried when she was sentenced in Victoria County Court to two years and eight months in prison for stealing nearly $ 670,000, largely from vacationers while working at Travel and Cruise North East to Wangaratta.

Instead of processing refunds, the mother-of-two diverted funds to her own bank accounts in hundreds of transactions in order to fuel a deep dependence on poker machines.

Roberts’ addiction was so severe that she gambled during her lunch breaks.

Small family business operated, judge says

Judge Michael McInerney said Roberts’ conduct was a “serious breach of trust.”

“She operated a small family business and produced for this family business and its owners an extremely serious impact on them,” said the judge.

He told the court that once the pandemic hit and Roberts started working from home, she gambled online, sponsoring a website called House of Pokies.

“She won around $ 113,000 from various jackpots, but was also able, in addition to the money she stole, to reinvest it in the operation,” he said.

“The house never loses.”

A few months after starting as an agent for Travel and Cruise North East in 2017, Roberts was robbing the family business.

Between April 2018 and September 2020, Roberts skimmed $ 628,598 by diverting refunds to his own bank accounts in 522 transactions.

She also stole $ 40,636 by putting the money on prepaid travel money cards on behalf of clients.

Her scheme collapsed when a customer called the company to inquire about a refund she was expecting.

When confronted with the business, Roberts claimed she put the money in the wrong account.

But an investigation revealed that it went into his own account.

The owners of the travel agency, Kay and Bruce Reid, reimbursed all their clients out of pocket, but were forced to sell two homes, including one left to them by a deceased family member.

Judge calls poker machines a “scourge”

The court heard that Roberts repaid just under $ 40,000.

Justice McInerney said his offense stunned his own family.

“They are all in disbelief that a habit they were aware of could have turned into such an obsession,” he said.

He targeted poker machines, which he called a “scourge” to society.

He ordered Roberts to spend at least 16 months behind bars before he could apply for parole.

“Mrs Roberts, I wish you well and I am sure that the positive comments made about you by everyone, once you are done serving this sentence, will show itself,” he said.


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