Former Cootamundra accountant Heather Grace was sentenced to 18 months' jail today for embezzling more than $31,000 from animal rescue groups, mostly in Sydney and Melbourne, and for insurance fraud after a car accident.
Police said that between 2015 and 2017 Grace contacted seven animal welfare groups personally or through Facebook and offered accounting services free, gaining their trust before later misdirecting their tax refunds.
The sentence was imposed by a magistrate in Tweed Heads, where she moved some time after fire destroyed her office in Cooper Street.
Magistrate Geoffrey Dunlevy imposed a non-parole period of nine months on the 49-year-old woman, and ordered her to pay compensation totalling $31,254 to the seven animal rescue groups.
Through a solicitor representing her at Cootamundra Local Court in March, Grace pleaded guilty to seven counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.
She also pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in relation to a motor vehicle crash in which she falsely claimed she was the driver.
Police said that after initially delivering her services to animal rescue groups free, she started charging her clients 5% of the total amount of tax for each organisation.
Then, after claiming GST rebates on behalf of the rescue groups, she started to have refunds from the Australian Taxation Office directed to her own bank account.
The groups and the compensation sought are Cheltenham Cat Rescue ($8363), TLC Rescue ($189), Sweet Shepherd Rescue ($5483), Maneki Neko Cat Rescue ($11,164), Dogue de Bordeaux ($2473) Animal Rescue Appeal ($2849) and Sydney Animal Rescue ($733).
At the time of the offences, Ms Grace was operating Been Accounting, in Cooper Street, Cootamundra.
In the early hours of June 9, 2017 a fire broke out at this business, destroying the financial records inside.
Police documents said the insurance fraud occurred in July and August 2017, when a Toyota Prado collided with a trailer.
Ms Grace pleaded guilty to publishing false and misleading material to obtain advantage by claiming she was the driver of the Prado, so that an insurance claim for $23,900 would be awarded.
A police investigation revealed Ms Grace had been elsewhere and could not have been the driver.
Investigations into the fire at Cooper Street at which financial records were destroyed are ongoing.
Police have appealed to anyone with information about the fire to contact Crimestoppers or Cootamundra Police.