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Woman pleads guilty to lotto theft at Lady J

Woman pleads guilty to lotto theft at Lady J

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Shanique Hooper has until November 1, 2013 to repay the $10,157 she pleaded guilty to stealing, over a 10-month period, from her former employer.{{more}}

Hooper, a former clerk at Lady J Giftorium, stole the money on various occasions from a lotto machine at her workplace, between September 2010 and July 2011.

After maintaining her innocence during the nearly five months of trial, Hooper, 25, yesterday changed her plea to guilty, at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court.

Magistrate Rechanne Browne-Matthias ordered that Hooper repay the money by November 1 or in default, she would spend nine months in prison.

The mother of two boys, one five years old and the other one month old, was also placed on a two-year bond in the sum of $5,000. In breach of the bond, Hooper will serve a year behind bars.

When the case re-commenced last Friday at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court, a voir dire was held to determine if a caution statement taken from Hooper, by investigating officer Corporal Malcolm Alexander, was taken under duress.

Magistrate Browne-Matthias ruled against the submission that was put forward by Carlos James, counsel for Hooper.

When the matter continued, Corporal Alexander read out the caution statement which he said was taken from Hooper at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) at around 10:10 p.m. on July 26, 2011.

Alexander said Hooper’s statement had been given voluntarily.

In that caution statement, Hooper said she had been working with proprietor of Lady J, Jennifer Williams, for five years, and started off with a salary of $600, which later went up to $800.

In May 2011, she said her responsibility was to open the lotto machine from 7 a.m. until the machine closed at 5 p.m. She noted that, on mornings, she would clear the machine if it needed to be cleared.

In late 2010, Hooper said she ran into financial difficulties.

“I rented a house at Layou for $400. I took out a refrigerator from Finishing and Furnishing and I was paying $100 a month. I also took out a stove at Singer for over $2,000 and paid $50 on it… I had a two-year-old son whom I had to support and while at work, my mother usually take care of my son,” the statement read.

She said as a result of her financial woes, she stole from the lotto machine.

“When I open the machine at 7 a.m., I would sell lotto and 3D and close the machine sometime before 8 a.m. and I would take the money for myself. I will then open back the machine and continue selling. Whenever the machine close at 5 p.m., there would be no record when I open at 7 a.m. and close before 8 a.m. There would be no receipt when I close the machine… When the machine restart, I will erase all information so no record would be left on the machine.

“I stole money from the machine on mornings several times. I can’t count the amount of times this happened. Almost every time I work, I took different amounts of money,” the statement further read.

Hooper said on July 15, 2011, Williams summoned her to the private lounge at Lady J and showed her a document detailing what had been stolen from the lotto machine.

When Williams took the stand in April this year, she said she had obtained a weekly statement from the National Lotteries Authority, with a figure of $31,248.50, which represented one week’s sale of lotto tickets, from July 6 to July 12, 2011.

Williams said she knew she did not have even half of that money to pay what she owed the NLA.

After assessing the figures, Williams said she noticed she was paying the NLA more money than she was collecting daily.

However, during the course of the trial, the prosecution, led by crown counsel Karim Nelson at the time, withdrew 228 of the 251 charges of theft that were originally brought against the Troumaca resident – leaving her to answer only 23 charges.

It was estimated that over $72,000 in total had been stolen between September 2010 and July 2011.

Continuing to read from Hooper’s caution statement, Alexander said Hooper said she used the stolen money to pay her bills. She added that she did not save nor did she give anyone the money. Hooper also stated that she was not aware that the money she stole had ballooned to $72,000.

Counsel for Hooper Carlos James said the decision by Hooper to change her plea was in the interest of all the parties involved.

James said her clean record, prior to the offence, is a strong mitigating factor. He added that his client is still a young individual, who at some point will make a contribution to society.

“She’s a single parent of a five-year-old son and a one month old boy. She’s still breastfeeding and it will pose some difficulty if she is incarcerated. That child is not properly weaned,” James said in mitigation.

He asked the court to impose a fine on his client and a suspended sentence.

Crown counsel Ayanna Baptiste-DaBreo said Williams is left in a situation where she has to repay the National Lottery over $70,000.

“I don’t believe that a discount on sentence is appropriate in this case in light of the facts… At the same time, she (Hooper) knew about the obligation to her children and would have known about the prospective penalties,” Baptiste-DaBreo stated.

Before handing down her sentence, Browne-Matthias asked Hooper two questions.

“Did your son cross your mind? Did it cross your mind that your actions will cause hardship?”

The magistrate said she had to think really hard about why she should not impose a custodial sentence on Hooper.

“I’ve heard what counsel said, but we can’t allow these things to happen. We have to think about making better decisions. The only saving grace here is a one-month-old child. Maybe, it was a very convenient strategy. You deprive, you will pay back…,” the magistrate said.

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