Business manager

‘Each year the trust grew’: Ex-entrepreneur’s $900,000 theft from his employer

Fiona-Jean Williams, also known as Fiona-Jean Purves, pleaded guilty to nine charges of theft by a person with a special relationship in Hamilton District Court.

Each time Fiona-Jean Williams robbed her bosses, her confidence grew.

It all started in 2012/13 when the commercial director of Fergusson Lockwood and Associates quietly pocketed $39,470 in one year. By February 2021, she had stolen $917,000 from the company through 524 different transactions.

Court documents show Williams, who was on a salary of $64,000, managed to double his annual salary in his first year on the offense, before doubling, tripling and so on in subsequent years.

Williams, who was also known by her married name Fiona-Jean Purves, was first employed by Hamilton property specialist firm Fergusson Lockwood and Associates as a business coordinator in April 2011 before her promotion a year later .

The 49-year-old was responsible for managing the administration of the company and had full access to company bank accounts to pay company bills, salaries and commissions.

Her offense began the same year she was promoted when she submitted 19 bogus bill payments in a scheme where she used legitimate payee names, such as OfficeMax or Corelogic or Pulse Tech for each of the transactions. She then put the money in her own bank accounts.

The following year, and with the same modus operandi, she took $58,710.00 using 29 invoices.

At this point, the court document says Williams’ “confidence grew” and in the 2014/15 financial year she stole $102,763.55, followed by $104,927.68 the following year.

It was in 2019/20 that she stole the most money – $164,609.56.

In March 2021, the company decided to change accountants, which involved upgrading their accounting system and software from Reckon to Xero.

Williams was asked to work with the new company, MBS Advisors Ltd, to manage the transition by transferring accounting information, including statements and invoices.

While Williams cooperated to some degree, she withheld supporting invoices to match the GST returns.

The business owner and MBS staff repeatedly requested this information from Williams, but it was not provided.

Due to the looming financial year deadline at the end of March 2021, the company owner arranged for a senior MBS accountant to obtain the information directly from Williams’ computer.

The accountant then discovered “numerous” transactions considered “significant” for a company the size of Fergusson Lockwood.

An investigation later discovered that Williams had created the fake invoices and paid the money directly into his personal Westpac and BNZ bank accounts.

When approached by police, Williams declined to comment.

In addition to repairs, accounting investigation costs of an additional $31,706.65 were claimed.

Asked by Judge Robert Spear about the prospect of any reparations being paid when he appeared in Hamilton District Court, Williams’ attorney Bill Nabney said it was under consideration.

Last week, Williams pleaded guilty to nine counts of robbery by someone with a special relationship and was remanded on additional bail to her home in Taupo.

Justice Spear ordered pre-sentence and restorative reports and also referred the case to restorative justice.

Williams was held on additional bail until sentencing on December 19.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.