Mother of two jailed for stealing $144,660 from her Tongatapu employer

A white-collar worker who faced one charge after stealing $144,660 from her employer had been sent to jail for three years and two months.

Fokikovi Mei Vaiola Lauaki. Photo/Supplied

The final 18 months had been suspended for two years on conditions.

Fokikovi Mei Vaiola Lauaki appeared for arraignment on June 1, 2023 and pleaded guilty after she stole the money from Luna’eva Enterprises Limited during the period from January to September 2022.

The statutory maximum sentence for this offence is seven year’s imprisonment.

In sentencing her last month, Justice Cooper said the 28-year-old  returned to the stores owned by her former employer for over eight months, after being dismissed, to steal and involved other members of staff.

“Therefore, I set a starting point in this case of 4 year’s imprisonment. I increased that to 5 years for all the aggravating features. I reduce that by 6 months to reflect her youth and previous good character. That gives four and a half years”, Mr Cooper said.

Lauaki was employed by Luna’eva from March 2020 to January 2022. Her offending came to light in September that year.

She had been trained in the use of the EFTPOS machine at the Veitongo branch, where she worked.

Using that device, she diverted the company’s funds into her own bank account from January to June 2022. That was a sum of $81,600.00 that was stolen by making 12 separate transactions over those six months.

From July to September that year a further $63,000.00 was stolen from the company in 7 transactions, one as large as $18,000.00. The last $10,000.00 was stolen and deposited in the account of Pelenaise Manu, the sister of her de facto partner, Tevita Manu.

The owner of Luna’eva, ‘Eve’eva Mafi, was alerted to the theft when one of her shop’s transaction machines would not work. Enquiries of the bank led to Lauaki’s thefts being revealed.

The mother of two sons, one who is less than one year old and the other is six years old and eight months, was remorseful.

Mr Cooper said: “It is not the case that she became pregnant after she was caught”.

Lauaki was educated right through to level 7. She enrolled at the Tonga Institute of Higher Education and successfully completed her diploma in International Business in 2016.

Lauaki’s suspension will be on the following conditions:

  • that she reports to probation within 48 hours of her release from prison;
  • not to commit any offence punishable by imprisonment;
  • she lives where directed by probation, and
  • that she completes a life skills course during her time in custody. Any breach of a term of the portion of her suspended sentence will make her liable to be sentenced to the whole suspended term.

“I reserve any breach to myself”, Mr Cooper said.

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