Woman jailed after ‘disgraceful’ charity rip off


A FORMER accountant stripped of her credentials after ripping off a string of animal rescue organisations across the country has been jailed.

Heather Maree Grace returned to Tweed Heads Local Court today for sentencing where Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy called her offending against charities "dishonourable and disgraceful".

The 49-year-old woman had been operating Been Accounting at Cootamundra when she offered her services to seven groups, the court was told.

Heather Maree Grace, 49, outside Tweed Heads Local Court.
Heather Maree Grace, 49, outside Tweed Heads Local Court.

Grace then embezzled $31,254 handed over by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), which was supposed to be returned to her not-for-profit clients.

The groups targeted were Animal Rescue Appeal, Sweet Shepherd Rescue, Maneki Neko Cat Rescue, TLC Rescue, Dogue de Bordeaux, Sydney Animal Rescue and Cheltenham Cat Rescue.

Grace has been working as a bookkeeper in Townsville after moving to Queensland.

Defence lawyer Michael McMillan, of Gold Coast firm McMillan Criminal Law, previously told Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy that Grace regretted her offending, which occurred during a tumultuous time in her life.

Mr Dunlevy said Grace "obtained a substantial amount of money" during a "substantial period of offending" between 2015 and 2017.

Grace's offending against charities was "particularly "dishonourable and disgraceful", Mr Dunlevy told the court.

However, he did consider Grace had been suffering from mental health issues and was an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital when she tried to defraud an insurance company of more than $20,000, falsely claiming to have been a driver involved in a crash.

Mr Dunlevy said it was unlikely Grace would reoffend and that she was taking steps to better her life.

Grace pleaded guilty to seven counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and one count of insurance fraud.

She was sentenced to 18 months jail with a non-parole period of nine months and she must pay compensation.

Grace will be eligible for parole on April 9 next year.

She did not appear surprised by the decision and showed little emotion as she was led from the court by police officers.