Schu­macher gets five years for fleec­ing poor

● Ex-mu­nic­i­pal of f icial opened ‘ghost’ ac­counts

The Herald (South Africa) - - News - Siyabonga Se­sant [email protected]­soblack­

She stole more than R439,000 from the Nel­son Man­dela Bay mu­nic­i­pal­ity – money which was meant to be used for the poor­est of the poor – and there­fore di­rect im­pris­on­ment was the only pun­ish­ment for for­mer mu­nic­i­pal pub­lic health of­fi­cial Pumeza Schu­macher.

Schu­macher, 36 – the mas­ter­mind be­hind sev­eral “ghost” ac­counts through which she en­riched her­self over four years – was sen­tenced by the Port El­iz­a­beth Com­mer­cial Crimes Court to five years in prison on Thurs­day.

Magistrate Lionel Lin­door told the con­victed fraud­ster that although she was a first­time of­fender, she “should be re­moved from so­ci­ety, at least for a pe­riod of time”, elic­it­ing gasps from the pub­lic gallery, where sev­eral of her fam­ily mem­bers were seated.

Schu­macher was em­ployed as a pub­lic li­ai­son of­fi­cer at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity un­til Novem­ber 17 2017, when she re­signed with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

For four years, she opened sev­eral ac­counts for non-ex­is­tent peo­ple, cre­at­ing a num­ber of “ghost” em­ploy­ees for ward­based clean­ers as part of the Ex­panded Pub­lic Works Pro­gramme (EPWP).

“You have been con­victed of a very se­ri­ous of­fence in­volv­ing in ex­cess of R400,000 that you’ve stolen over a pe­riod of four years,” Lin­door said.

“So, on av­er­age, you have stolen more than R100,000 a year from your em­ployer.

“It can there­fore not be said that you acted on the spur of the mo­ment.”

Lin­door said he had con­sid­ered var­i­ous sen­tenc­ing op­tions for the mar­ried mother of two young chil­dren.

But be­cause of the cal­cu­lated and sys­tem­atic man­ner of the crime, he had dis­missed im­pos­ing a fine.

Lin­door also said plac­ing her un­der cor­rec­tional su­per­vi­sion or im­pos­ing a wholly sus­pended sen­tence “would re­sult in an over-em­pha­sis of the ac­cused’s per­sonal cir­cum­stances and an un­der-em­pha­sis on the se­ri­ous­ness of the of­fence and the in­ter­est of so­ci­ety”.

“You stole money that was to be used for the poor­est of the poor and I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that the only ap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence is one of di­rect im­pris­on­ment,” the magistrate said.

“Hav­ing, how­ever, con­sid­ered the in­ter­est of the chil­dren, it is my view that the pe­riod that you spend in prison should not be too long so that the time you are re­moved from your chil­dren should be kept to the min­i­mum.

“I am sat­is­fied that should a cus­to­dial sen­tence be im­posed, your chil­dren would be ad­e­quately cared for.”

Talk­ing di­rectly to Schu­macher, who was clutch­ing the desk in front of her, Lin­door said: “Your sen­tence is ef­fec­tively five years in prison, but de­pend­ing on your be­hav­iour in prison [and] whether you are go­ing to en­rol for the pro­grammes they of­fer in prison, you may be re­leased sooner – af­ter you have served ap­prox­i­mately 10 months of your sen­tence.”

Schu­macher closed her eyes briefly be­fore then in­di­cat­ing to the magistrate that she un­der­stood.

She in­di­cated later that she would not be ap­ply­ing for leave to ap­peal.

Schu­macher’s lawyer, Carolyn Ah Shene, said her client had al­ready paid back all the money she had stolen and was re­morse­ful.

“She was con­victed of [steal­ing] that amount but she has fully re­paid that money now.

“We need to place that on record be­cause I know that there have been com­ments on the in­ter­net with peo­ple say­ing she needs to pay it back,” Ah Shene said.

“And I also need to point out fur­ther that her fam­ily was not aware of what was go­ing on. Her hus­band as well.

“So ob­vi­ously it came as a shock to all of them. The fact that she took the step of plead­ing guilty shows re­morse in this mat­ter. She’s sorry for what she did,” Ah Shene said.

Schu­macher’s fam­ily mem­bers sobbed qui­etly when they hugged her good­bye.


LOW PRO­FILE: Pumeza Schu­macher in court on Novem­ber 27

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