A woman who spent $50,000 on a company credit card has faced court.
A woman who spent $50,000 on a company credit card has faced court. Lee Constable

Credit card used to steal $50,000 from childcare centre

AN EMPLOYEE who partly funded a cruise with money stolen from a Bowen childcare centre has sailed straight to jail.

Marion May Collison, 45, was sentenced in Bowen District Court last Wednesday on a charge of fraud as an employee to the value of $50,000.

Collison pleaded guilty to the charge in an arraignment in late February.

Crown prosecutor Monique Sheppard told the court that Collison fraudulently used a credit card provided to her by her employers, Bowen and District Child Care Centre, over a period of six-and-a-half years.

The offences occurred between September 25, 2010, and February 14, 2017, while Collison was the operations director at the not-for-profit centre, Ms Sheppard said.

Among Collison's offences was withdrawing $3000 in cash, a deposit on a P&O Cruise for herself, her partner and child, as well as booking a caravan site and buying Big Bash cricket tickets.

Purchases on the card also included iTunes payments, supermarket, cafe and online store spending, as well as car maintenance and insurance.

The court heard the centre's financial officer confronted Collison about a number of withdrawals on the card in January 2011, and the financial officer and president spoke to her again in 2014.

After the discovery, the centre gave Collison the opportunity to pay off what she owed by continuing to work at the centre and having some of her wages withheld.

During this time, the centre managed to re-coup $20,000 of the money Collison had taken.

However, Collison continued to take money after this time, Ms Sheppard said.

"The offending comes not out of necessity, but on a lifestyle that couldn't be afforded," Ms Sheppard said.

The prosecutor said there was a need for general deterrence as there had been such a breach of trust.

"The quantum of money was significant," she said.

"The restitution is really part of the complainant's goodwill to continue her employment."

Defence barrister Matthew Heelan told how Collison was remorseful for her actions.

"In her words, that organisation was her life," Mr Collison said.

"She's very sorry. She apologises to the organisation and parents and children."

Mr Heelan told the court his client had worked in the child care industry almost all her life.

He spoke of how she was still employed within the industry by CMK in a senior management role.

Her current role involved Collison overseeing childcare centres and kindergartens from Bowen, to Gladstone, to Longreach, ensuring government funding for centres and that programs are rolled out, Mr Heelan said.

He also spoke of volunteer and fundraising work Collison had undertaken over the years, and how she had received awards for her work in the past - although admitting those awards were "now tainted".

Mr Heelan told the court Collison planned to pay back the remaining $29,261.54 she had taken by mortgaging the family home.

He also spoke of the affect any imprisonment would have on Collison's family, especially the youngest of her three sons.

In sentencing, Judge John Coker said "it was noteworthy that the period of offending was around six-and-a-half years" and that "there were opportunities open to you and given to you to cease the offending".

"Not only was it a breach of the law, but also a breach of the trust put in you," he said.

"$56,000, that is a very significant fund and would have placed enormous pressure on Bowen and District Child Care Centre.

"There was not a need (for the spending). Rather ... it was an opportunity taken by you to improve your lifestyle at the detriment of children and families of the Bowen and District Child Care Centre.

"You were found out on a number of occasions and yet you continued to offend."

Judge Coker sentenced Collison to three years' prison, with an actual term of nine months that must be served in custody.

The remainder will be suspended for four years.

He also ordered she pay $29,621.54 to the Bowen and District Child Care Centre by no later than July 22.