Fraud shuts Streets Ahead trust
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.’’
Five good years: Te Rauparaha Arena has exceeded expectations, bringing events to Porirua like the 2010 senior national rock ’n’ roll competition.
Second time: Toni Gardener appeared in court in January after defrauding the Department of Internal Affairs.