Woman stole $1.8m for gambling addiction

·3-min read

A stressed accountant who turned to poker machines as an escape stole almost $2 million from her employer to feed her addiction, a court has been told.

After hitting hard times, Sandra Balfour, 67, transferred money from a Brisbane car dealer in a "large number of discreet transactions" ranging from $100 to more than $10,000 from 2010 to 2018.

But instead of Balfour enjoying a lavish lifestyle, the money went "straight into pokies", defence barrister Matthew Hynes said.

Balfour turned to gambling after battling to cope with suddenly becoming the sole bread winner and carer for her husband in 2010, Brisbane District Court heard.

Her husband lost his job and was unable to work due to a medical condition, becoming depressed and turning to alcohol.

"Gambling was an escape for her," Mr Hynes said of Balfour, a Scottish citizen who now faces deportation.

"This is not a case of someone living a greedy, lavish lifestyle. She is feeding her addiction - it was need, not greed.

"It was a proper addiction."

Balfour began siphoning money from the car dealer in June 2010, taking more than $1.8 million until she was caught in early 2018.

An investigation was launched after a customer complained they had not received a payment from the car dealer and it was discovered the money had been transferred to Balfour's account.

She had used another employee's log-in details to generate a payment from the car dealer before authorising it herself.

Transactions were made under generic descriptions to avoid scrutiny before she was arrested in June 2018 and later released on bail.

Her husband - who died of cancer in 2021 - pleaded with her not to touch a poker machine again after her release, Mr Hynes said.

"She has kept that promise," he said.

Balfour began work at the car dealership in October 1993 just months after pleading guilty to 12 counts of fraudulent and false accounting when she "overpaid herself" $33,000, receiving a three-year jail term which was immediately suspended, the court heard.

She arrived in Australia in 1982 but is still a Scottish citizen.

Judge Paul Smith factored in the "hardship" Balfour faced following her jail term when determining her sentence.

Balfour is expected to have her visa cancelled under the migration act and be deported following her release from prison.

She had no job prospects or friends in Scotland and her only remaining connection to her homeland - a country she had not visited in more than a decade - was an ill, younger brother, Mr Hynes said.

"Hardship issues have been pointed out. Your connection to Scotland is almost non existent ... (but) this is a significant breach of trust," Judge Smith said.

He also factored in Balfour offering to pay about $900,000 to resolve ongoing, related civil action before sentencing.

With her son looking on, Balfour was sentenced to eight years' jail on one count of fraud as an employee valued at $100,000 or more.

She will be eligible for parole in April 2024.

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