29 May 2014

Woman escapes jail after misusing fees

5:15 am on 29 May 2014

A woman who used student fees to prop up her failing Wellington language school, but didn't even pay herself a salary, has escaped a jail sentence.

Mieko Cains, 70, was sentenced in the Wellington District Court on Wednesday on charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and aiding and abetting her company in offending under the Education Act.

Mieko Cains misreported student numbers and didn't lodge fees with the Public Trust.

Mieko Cains misreported student numbers and didn't lodge fees with the Public Trust. Photo: RNZ / Anne Marie May

Judge Ian Mill sentenced her to eight months home detention, 200 hours of community work and ordered Cains to pay $10,000 reparation at $40 a week.

Her company the Wellington Institute of Studies, which traded as Wellington Business School, was fined $20,000, along with court costs and solicitors' fees.

Cains had also been a director of 10 other companies struck off the Companies Register in the past few years, including some other language schools.

Judge Ian Mill told the court a check by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority in 2011 revealed that she had misreported student numbers and also failed to lodge student fees with the Public Trust, as required.

He said some of that money had been borrowed to pay staff and operating costs, but Cains also admitted creating dummy invoices understating the amount paid to overseas agents by students.

Judge Mill said while the offending was characterised as 'robbing Peter to pay Paul', it was unlikely that Cains would ever have been able to repay the money. However, he said she never drew a salary and her husband also worked fulltime at the school but wasn't paid.

Cains' lawyer Kevin Smith said his client accepted that she breached her obligation to place the student fees in trust as required by law.

However, when the authorities came in and closed the school down she lost the opportunity to continue trading, which would have enabled her to recover and repay the money.

Mr Smith said Cains was very ashamed because stories about her business failure containing her photo had been published in her home area in Japan and that would act as a strong deterrent to prevent her committing any such offending in future.

For the Crown, Matthew Ferrier said students were reimbursed from an education levy, which was contributed to by those offering education services to overseas students.

He said 93 students had left Cains' company without the qualification they had enrolled and paid for and while their fees were reimbursed, some had to return to their home countries because they could not get on another course.

Mr Ferrier said the education industry is an important source of revenue for New Zealand and cases like this could could have a serious effect on this country's international reputation.