Fraud shuts Streets Ahead trust

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

A Wai­tan­girua char­ity aim­ing to keep teenagers out of gangs has closed af­ter be­ing robbed by its busi­ness man­ager.

Can­nons Creek woman Toni Lor­raine Gar­dener has ad­mit­ted to steal­ing $4000 from Streets Ahead 237 while work­ing as its busi­ness man­ager.

She took the money be­tween May 2012 and Fe­bru­ary this year us­ing a debit card.

Gar­dener was con­victed in Porirua Dis­trict Court last Tues­day, and will be sen­tenced on De­cem­ber 17.

She was also con­victed in Jan­uary of steal­ing from her pre­vi­ous em­ployer, the Depart­ment of In­ter­nal Af­fairs.

Streets Ahead 237 was founded in 2006 by re­formed Mon­grel Mob mem­ber Wayne Poutoa, who served on Porirua City Coun­cil last term.

It has re­ceived a huge amount of pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age and has been praised by So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Paula Ben­nett and Maori Party co- leader Tar­i­ana Turia.

‘‘It’s a to­tal dis­ap­point­ment in re­spect of the work that we did, and how that work has now had to cease,’’ Mr Poutoa said.

How­ever, de­vout Chris­tian Mr Poutoa said last week he hoped Gar­dener would over­come her prob­lems.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple in our sit­u­a­tion would go for the throat, but this is another op­por­tu­nity for us to hold on to our kau­papa [phi­los­o­phy] of for­give­ness.’’

Al­though Streets Ahead has folded, Mr Poutoa and wife Jen­nifer have con­tin­ued to work with 100 young peo­ple from the pro­gramme.

Staff had to be laid off and fund­ing from the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment was put on hold once the ex­tent of Gar­dener’s fraud was dis­cov­ered, Streets Ahead 237 chair­man Gre­gory For­tuin said.

‘‘Sud­denly the fund­ing took a nose­dive. We were strug­gling to pay bills.’’

Trustees had also lost en­thu­si­asm for their work af­ter Mr Poutoa was pub­licly attacked for Streets Ahead’s prob­lems, Mr For­tuin said.

‘‘It just be­came quite a tough ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

Proper em­ploy­ment pro­cesses were fol­lowed be­fore hir­ing Gar­dener in Fe­bru­ary 2012, Mr For­tuin said.

Her ref­er­ences were phoned by Mr Poutoa, busi­ness man­ager Shane Laulu and a Work and In­come case man­ager, but no­body men­tioned her pre­vi­ous fraud, he said.

When Gar­dener’s crimes hit the me­dia in Oc­to­ber 2012, Streets Ahead be­gan its own in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but was cau­tious about ac­cus­ing her be­fore it had ev­i­dence she had of­fended again, Mr For­tuin said.

Many Streets Ahead em­ploy­ees had trou­bled pasts and the char­ity be­lieved in sec­ond chances, he said.

‘‘ We be­lieve in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­demp­tion.’’

In any case, two ex­ter­nal au­dits were done af­ter Gar­dener ar­rived and they had been all clear, Mr For­tuin said.

‘‘She was pro­duc­ing re­ports to us that seemed kosher, but they’d been ma­nip­u­lated.’’

It was sad to see some­one you trusted be­tray you, Mr For­tuin said.

‘‘When you try to work with at-risk youth and peo­ple who have lost their way and some­thing like this hap­pens, there’s a lot of anger and pain for a lot of peo­ple.’’

Photo: FAIR­FAX

Five good years: Te Rau­paraha Arena has ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions, bring­ing events to Porirua like the 2010 se­nior na­tional rock ’n’ roll com­pe­ti­tion.

Photo: FAIR­FAX

Sec­ond time: Toni Gar­dener ap­peared in court in Jan­uary af­ter de­fraud­ing the Depart­ment of In­ter­nal Af­fairs.

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