A FORMER Campaigns Manager who defrauded an animal charity of more than £5,000 by making a series of “online” personal purchases has avoided jail for her “mean-spirited” offending.
Adrianne Peltz previously pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of her position involving £5,393.22 at the Dogs Trust in a “breach of trust.”
The 35-year-old of Beatrice Road, Bangor, County Down, admitted using a Dogs Trust credit card for personal expenditures.
A prosecutor told Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday Peltz had been employed as the Dogs Trust’s Campaigns Manager for Northern Ireland and she had a charity credit card for use in the day to day running of her office.
However, upon the termination of her contract “numerous requests for receipts” to be produced by Peltz were not forthcoming.
It emerged that on dates between April and October in 2017 a number of items totalling £5,392.22 could not be explained as “legitimate company business”.
Defence barrister Stephen Law said it was accepted that all money given to a charity is important and for anyone to mis-use it would be “particularly mean-spirited”.
He said Peltz had been going through a “particularly difficult time” when the offending happened.
Mr Law said she was “under considerable pressure at work” and was also “trying to juggle her caring and loving role as a mother” and was also a carer for her own mum.
In the evenings when “under stress” Peltz had “strayed beyond” what the credit card was intended for and made a number of “online” purchases.
Mr Law said it “really has been a classic fall from grace” for Peltz who had been industrious and occupied a number of important public roles which had now “all come crashing down” and with it she had lost her reputation.
Following the guilty plea he said the defendant resigned from a number of groups but he said a “glimmer of hope” was that she recently married and her husband was with her in court.
Mr Law said the defendant was unemployed and was not claiming any benefits but “living on the goodwill” of her husband.
The defence barrister said there was no question that Peltz felt ashamed for her “inexcusable” actions and she may have to move from her current address because she has been “shunned” by the community.
He said although every pound given to a charity is important the Dogs Trust was a UK-wide organisation and the loss of £5,000 may not have a “significant impact” on them.
Mr Law said it had been a “life-changing experience” for Peltz who is going to “pick herself up, get a job and pay this money back”.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said the offending was “mean-spirited” which involved a “breach of trust” with a charity to which the public had given money in good faith.
He said he read a Victim Impact Statement from the Dogs Trust and the incident had a “traumatic effect” on staff.
The judge said he took into account a guilty plea and said it was not without significance that Peltz lost her job and other employment and there had been an “element of public shame which is attached to such a high profile loss of face”.
He handed down a six months jail term, suspended for two years, and ordered the defendant to pay back the amount of money involved.
Outside the court the defendant replied “no comment thank you” as she passed reporters.
The Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity and cares for over 15,000 dogs each year through a network of 20 rehoming centres in the UK including one in Ballymena.
Following Thursday’s sentencing, a Dogs Trust spokesperson said: “We rely on the enormous generosity of the public to help us care for over 15,000 dogs every year and we do all we can to ensure funds are used wisely.
“This was a rare situation for us and we took appropriate steps at the time to recover the funds where we could, but what’s important is that following today’s hearing more of the money will be returned to us and put back into the vital work that we do.
“We would like to thank the police for their prompt assistance in this matter. We respect the decision of the court and are pleased to draw this issue to a close.”
After previous court appearances in connection with the case, Peltz recently resigned from the board of trustees at Victim Support NI. Victim Support NI is an independent charity supporting people affected by crime.
She told the BBC “it was the fair and right thing to do for a charity that does such good work with victims”.
In July, Peltz was pictured at Stormont with Boris Johnson during his Conservative Party leadership campaign ahead of becoming Prime Minister.
She has also resigned from her role as regional co-ordinator of Politics Plus, which provides support to MLAs at Stormont.
The defendant is originally from South Africa but has lived in Northern Ireland for a number of years and her other leading roles included the student union sector.
She was a campaigner for Amnesty International in Northern Ireland and has also frequently appeared as a media commentator.