How accountant stole thousands from animal rescues

A disgraced accountant has mumbled her apologies outside court after swindling more than $30,000 from multiple animal rescue groups.

Victims of Heather Maree Grace's dishonesty include Animal Rescue Appeal, Sweet Shepherd Rescue, Maneki Neko Cat Rescue, TLC Rescue, Dogue de Bordeaux, Sydney Animal Rescue and Cheltenham Cat Rescue.

The 49-year-old woman had been operating Been Accounting in the New South Wales town of Cootamundra when she targeted the charitable organisations between 2015-2017.

Grace embezzled $31,254 in total from the groups after approaching them, through means including Facebook, to offer accounting services.

She directed money from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) meant for the organisations to her own accounts.

The groups remain out of pocket, though Grace mumbled she was remorseful and would repay the money when approached outside Tweed Heads Local Court on Wednesday.

Grace faced the court for sentencing after pleading guilty to seven counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and one of insurance fraud (for falsely claiming to be a driver involved in a crash).

She appeared nervous as she sat in front of Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy, her head hung low.

Grace was represented by Gold Coast lawyer Michael McMillan, of McMillan Criminal Law.

She appeared in front of Tweed Heads Local Court.
She appeared in front of Tweed Heads Local Court.

He told the court Grace had since moved to Townsville, where she has been working as a bookkeeper after being stripped of her accounting credentials.

"These small towns, I'm told, are fairly unforgiving," Mr McMillan said.

Mr McMillan told the court Grace had "experienced all forms of domestic abuse" while in a violent relationship and she was estranged from her two sons after a "business relationship went bad".

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Grace's business burnt down in mid-2017 and more than $40,000 worth of inventory was destroyed, Mr McMillan said - adding the fire was not related to Grace's embezzlement.

Cheltenham Cat Rescue was one of multiple rescues ripped off. Picture: David Caird
Cheltenham Cat Rescue was one of multiple rescues ripped off. Picture: David Caird

The court was told Grace, described as "very sorry", suffered from significant mental health issues and had previously been drinking a bottle of vodka each day.

Grace had no prior criminal history and her offending was "completely unsophisticated", Mr McMillan said.

Mr Dunlevy said he needed time to consider the case and make a decision.

Grace was bailed to reappear in Tweed Heads Local Court on July 10.