A woman was ordered five years imprisonment after she pleaded guilty to 34 counts for misappropriating more than VT10.3 million obtained from land sale.
Alexine John a mother of four, admitted that from 2012, she acted as a real estate agent on behalf of a customary landowner. She subdivided and sold plots of land to 34 complainants.
Justice Viran Molisa Trief said that most of the clients signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement with John and gave her various amounts of money as deposits for land located at Stella Mare/2nd Lagoon, Etas, Teouma and Rentapao.
Justice Trief said John misappropriated the money totalling VT10,375,600 given by 34 complainants and none of them received land or leases over land.
The judge said John partially refunded money to just 3 complainants and the total remaining amount totalling up to VT10,110,600 has never been recovered.
The customary landowner Silas Alban confirmed giving his consent verbally to Ms John to sell his lands. In 2016, he became aware that she needed to refund the complainants’ money. He only received VT100,000 from her.
The records showed that the complainants gave her amounts ranging from VT100,000 to VT603,000 starting from 2012 to 2017.
Sometimes after processing the initial payment, the complainants ceased making further payments and requested that John refund them because there was no road access to the land and no electricity.
Some of the lands were sold repeatedly even three times
John delayed taking some complainants to the land lots for which they had made payment and even failed to John herself had an issue with the landowner. The land was reportedly disputed and after making complete payment, they never owned the land.
John told the client she will refund their money back and never did to date.
On 6 June 2020, John made full admissions to the Police.
The sentence start point is assessed having regard to the maximum sentence available, and the mitigating and aggravating factors of the offending.
Justice Trief said that the maximum sentence for misappropriation is 12 years imprisonment and confirmed the mitigating factor in the case is that John partially refunded three of her victims.
But she said that the offending has been aggravated by the significant financial loss caused to the complainants, the number of complainants involved (34), repeated dishonest offending over a 6-year period; John benefitted substantially from the offending.
The court also noted that the offending was premeditated and planned, the subterfuge employed including the use of a sale and purchase agreement and map showing the land lots to conceal the reality of her offending, and no prospect of reparation despite her promises.
The factors set out above require a global sentence start point of seven years imprisonment.
John pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. Given the strength of the Prosecution case, the judge deducts 25% for the plea (21 months).
The court also considered her age as 53 years old and she has four children and is separated from her husband. She has no previous convictions. No custom reconciliation ceremony has been performed. A number of the complainants have stated they will not accept any custom reconciliation; they would like their money refunded.
Some of the complainants commenced civil proceedings against John and have obtained an enforcement warrant for the seizure and sale of a registered leasehold property.
Mrs Christina Tina Gesa submitted on behalf of John that given the civil proceedings, the criminal case came as a surprise to her client as she thought the matter had already been dealt with by the Court.
Justice Trief did not agree with that and clarified that taking civil action does not preclude criminal prosecution. Further, only some of the complainants took civil action, not all the complainants.
John is stated to be remorseful however that does not sit well with her dishonesty offending over a 6-year period, even after numerous complainants had requested a refund of their money.
The court then deducted three months of John’s personal factor leaving the end sentence of five years to be served behind bars.