The manager of a Vinnies store who stole more than $15,000 from the charity to spend on drugs has received a suspended sentence in the Mount Gambier Magistrates Court.

Nicole Ann Cook, 45, pleaded guilty to the theft and admitted using the money to buy methamphetamine, which she said she stopped taking last year.

Cook was employed as the manager of the Vinnies op shop in Mount Gambier in January 2022, but in March 2022 managers in Adelaide noticed that money that was placed in the cash register was not being deposited in the bank.

After an exchange of text messages and emails that did not explain the missing money, the St Vincent de Paul Society’s chief executive and general manager made a surprise visit to the Mount Gambier store in May.

Volunteers there said that Cook had told them that only she could deposit cash in the bank, but BankSA only had one record of her going to the local branch since she started the job four months earlier.

During that one visit, she deposited $3,046.

Cook was fired and the theft of $15,100.35 was reported in June 2022.

She pleaded guilty to the crime last August.

The Vinnies op shop in Mount Gambier.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Theft hurt charity

Michelle Kemp, who was the acting chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society when the crime occurred, said in a victim impact statement read to the court that the theft “had an impact on our charity’s ability to fulfil its mission to the fullest extent in Mount Gambier”.

“The funds that were stolen were earmarked for programs and initiatives that directly and positively impact the lives of those who rely on our services,” Ms Kemp’s statement said.

She said the theft limited how much support the Catholic organisation could give to the community, affected the trust it placed in employees and volunteers, caused emotional distress to staff and volunteers, increased its insurance premiums and would damage its reputation in Mount Gambier.

All but $500 of the stole money was reimbursed through insurance.

Cook was ordered to pay the St Vincent de Paul Society $500 in compensation.

The court heard that Cook’s actions damaged the reputation of the charity in the city.(ABC News)

‘Deeply ashamed’

Cook’s lawyer, Kate Annells, told the court her client was “deeply ashamed and regrets her actions”.

“She is deeply aware of how her actions have hurt St Vincent de Paul and feels a deep sense of shame for her behaviour,” Ms Annells said.

“It is something that she has not done before and she is determined not to do again.”

She said Cook had stopped taking drugs and had no prior criminal history.

Magistrate Koula Kossiavelos said a deterrent was needed to show the impact of stealing from charities.

“They rely on volunteers and community support and you undermined that with your actions by showing that this organisation is vulnerable to persons taking hard-earned donations from it, and obviously taking monies from charitable organisations is deep-felt,” she said.

Magistrate Kossiavelos gave Cook a six-month suspended sentence and put her on an 18-month good behaviour bond.

Cook will have to stay off drugs and alcohol as a condition of her bond.

She was diagnosed with cancer six months ago.

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