Sonya Causer pleads guilty to stealing $20m from Clive Peeters


My Say
How this one ever happened is beyond belief.This woman Sonya Causer, ran the payroll yet managed to rip off the company for 20 million over quite a short period of time. Now this bright spark probably never expected to get caught, so she went quietly about buying more than 40, yes 40 houses around the traps. That’s what I call staying under the radar. Hey at least she was charitable with the retailers money. She even bid for and won a car in the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal, what a heart… The reality is though this mum is going to jail, and so she should.

Sonya Causer sits proudly in the Holden SportWagon she successfully bid for in the Royal Children's Hospital Good Friday Appeal Online Auction last year.

THE payroll manager of troubled white-goods and electrical retailer Clive Peeters has admitted she used $20 million in company funds on a spending spree, buying more than 40 properties in the past 18 months.

Sonya Causer, 38, from Lilydale, spent the equivalent of a year’s company earnings secretly compiling an impressive portfolio, including nine properties in Melbourne’s inner east, 28 in the outer eastern suburbs, and two in Mildura.

She bought a house in Balwyn North worth $995,000 and one in Surrey Hills worth $925,000.

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Sonya Causer sits proudly in the Holden SportsWagon she successfully bid for in the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal Online Auction last year.

In total she bought 43 properties, including five in suburban Brisbane and one in Tasmania.

Her 18-month spree from the listed retailer – which has 49 stores and 1300 staff – was worth more than the pre-tax earnings of $17.3 million in the 2008 financial year.

She also spent $166,500 on three cars, including a luxury $105,000 Audi four-wheel-drive, a Holden station wagon and a Toyota LandCruiser.

But last week her double life came crashing down, when she was confronted by managing director Greg Smith and she admitted to using a loophole in the company’s internet banking with National Australia Bank to steal from the company.

”I have stuffed up big time and just want to curl up in a ball and disappear,” she told Mr Smith in one of their meetings.

Mr Smith yesterday said he was hopeful the company would be able to recoup most of the losses because Ms Causer had confessed she had stolen the funds and agreed to transfer the Victorian properties back to the company. Many of the homes had been generating rental income, he said.

Ms Causer has admitted to falsifying payroll records, transferring cash to her bank account.

Until the full scale of the fraud was uncovered by auditors last week, Ms Causer, who has worked at the Clive Peeters Melbourne head office for three years, tried to cover up and then play down her role.

She was able to transfer company money to her bank account, and those of her company, M & S Business Enterprises, between November 2007 and June this year because she was a signatory to the company’s account, as a senior member of the finance team. Her theft was not immediately apparent because she attempted to cover her trail by changing financial records.

Sonya Causer

Ms Causer started snapping up her portfolio just seven months after she was promoted to payroll manager in April 2007.

The alarm was raised on the missing money on July 29 when one of her colleagues, another Clive Peeters accountant, noticed a $2 million variation between two company ledgers. Only after further investigation by the auditors did the company discover there was a much larger hole.

The company told the Australian Securities Exchange at the end of July that it had found an unexplained $7 million hole in its accounts. This later grew to $20 million.

Ms Causer initially purported to assist the company’s auditors, Deloitte, in the investigation of her own fraud.

Only after she attempted to cover her money trail by changing figures on internal accounting systems did she admit to management she had falsified financial documents.

Ms Causer initially claimed she had only falsified entries in an accounting ledger to ”help the company”, only later confessing to the full extent of the theft in a meeting with Mr Smith on August 4.

As payroll manager, Ms Causer had a salary of $125,000.

Clive Peeters shares have been suspended until it completes its investigation into the fraud. Earlier this month the company said it expected to post a loss of between $11 million and $12 million for the 2009 financial year.

It has taken civil action against Ms Causer to freeze her assets and have them transferred to the company. No criminal action has been launched.

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