Mava Haropula
Mava Haropula

Jailed for betraying group's trust

A FORMER financial controller at the Lismore Neighbourhood Centre, Mava Haropula, will spend at least three years in jail for his crime of stealing $67,000 from the not-for-profit group.

Haropula, 40, a Papua New Guinea national, pleaded guilty in the Lismore District Court to three counts of fraud involving more than 60 offences committed when he held the position of trust at the centre during 2006 and 2007.

His sentencing was delayed until yesterday so the Crown could investigate his earlier claim that he spent thousands of dollars paying the school fees of a child of a Papua New Guinea family who attended his Lismore church.

Haropula also claimed to have used some of the money to pay about $15,000 to a Queensland immigration agent to help with the family’s immigration application.

Judge James Black sentenced Haropula to four-and-a-half years’ jail, and set a non-parole period of three years, after finding there were some special circumstances.

With time served, Haropula, who has been living in Townsville, will be eligible for release in February 2013.

Judge Black said Haropula began his offending very soon after starting work at the centre and had prior offences for fraud in Queensland.

In one of these unrelated cases, he stole $30,000 and received a three-year jail sentence – suspended after he served six months in custody.

Judge Black said Haropula last year also engaged in fraudulent activity in Queensland.

He said a report before the court stated Haropula had a ‘misguided’ sense toward money under his control. He said until Haropula was treated he would remain a risk to the community and his criminal record showed that.

Despite Haropula’s assertion he spent more than $40,000 of the stolen money on school fees and immigration fees for the PNG family, Judge Black said he could not find from the evidence that this amount had gone anywhere near to being half the money Haropula defrauded.

Judge Black said he could find no basis to the claim $15,000 was paid to an immigration agent to help facilitate immigration proceedings and enquiries on behalf of the woman and her family.

He ordered Haropula to repay the stolen money.

The Crown said its investigation showed any immigration agent fees paid had been small amounts, $20 to $50, and it had not been possible to say where money paid in student fees had come from.

Defence lawyer Michael Betts had argued his client paid the thousands of dollars in student fees and that it would be ‘far fetched’ for Haropula to make it up.

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