ACT News

Canberra shoe store worker faked refunds to steal more than $70,000 from till

A Canberra woman who stole more than $70,000 from a city shoe store to buy clothes claimed she didn't remember taking the money from the till because she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a court heard. 

Donna Louise Hogan, 58, pleaded guilty to taking the money from the store through 697 separate transactions over 2½ years from December 2011 and appeared in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court heard Hogan, store manager at the time, processed refunds for pairs of shoes that had never left the Civic shop and created false receipts under names of girls she went to school with to cover her offences. 

She would then take the money from the cash register and spent it mostly on clothes but said she "didn't buy anything big, like a car or furniture or anything like that". 

Hogan sobbed as she told a sentencing hearing before Justice John Burns she was "really, really sorry" for the thefts, which totalled $71,128, and "can't remember a lot of it". 

"I didn't realise I was doing it at the time, it was like it wasn't me and then a few days later I would be like, 'Oh my god'.

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The court heard Hogan was receiving counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder and she had spent the stolen cash to make herself feel better.

In giving evidence, Hogan's psychiatrist said the disorder was often characterised by depression, emotional disconnection and a lack of judgment which often manifested in behaviours such as overspending. 

She said overspending habits like the defendant's were the result of poor impulse control and used to stave off negative emotions. 

 "It was clear at the time of these offences she was aware what she was doing was wrong, but she continued to do it as a block," she said. 

The psychiatrist said Hogan also displayed symptoms of dissociation and while she looked very functional on the outside, she struggled on an emotional and interpersonal level, which could cause her to act in a way that seemed "robotic". 

Under cross-examination from Crown prosecutor Sarah McFarland, the psychiatrist said it was possible for Hogan to carry out the fake refunds and fill in details on the forms even when she was in a dissociative state. 

She said while the disorder often cause emotional disconnection, cognitive function was often unaffected.

"She found a way to self soothe, she felt happy so she kept doing it. It's a way of comforting those emotions."

The witness told the court any custodial sentence imposed could prompt a relapse of Hogan's post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Ms McFarland argued the crimes were premeditated rather than opportunistic, and Hogan continued to steal the money even though she knew it was wrong. 

She said Hogan had abused her position of trust as a manager over a significant period of time and her offending was prompted by greed more than childhood trauma or desperate financial need. 

Ms McFarland claimed there were no medical documents to show Hogan suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder that may have led to her offending between 2011 and 2014.

Hogan's defence lawyer argued his client had no criminal history and had shown "impressive remorse", co-operated with police and entered an early guilty plea.

The court heard Hogan had already paid more than $61,000 to the shoe company from money drawn from her superannuation savings earned during 28 years of work for the government. 

Mr Burns will hand down his sentence next month.