The woman who allegedly swindled Howick SPCA donors out of thousands of rands will spend her Christmas and New Year in jail.
Former Umngeni SPCA employee Teresa “Tess” Fernandez was remanded in custody by a Howick magistrate pending legal aid prior to her bail application.
However, legal aid offices only reopen on January 9 next year, meaning Fernandez will be incarcerated at the Westville prison until then.
Fernandez, who was the SPCA’s public relations officer and fundraiser, was charged with fraud by her then employees three months ago for allegedly diverting donations to the value of R321 000 meant for the SPCA to her account before skipping the country.
It was initially reported that Fernandez allegedly targeted pensioners at high-end retirement villages where she would garner their trust in an attempt to procure monetary donations for the SPCA, but instead switched the account number to her own, while keeping the SPCA’s account name.
She was allegedly exposed when Howick resident Karin Vickers called the SPCA asking for a tax certificate after she had donated a substantial amount of money.
It is believed 32 counts of fraud have since been tallied against Fernandez.
After her arrest on Thursday, she appeared before the Howick Magistrate’s Court on Friday, in front of a few relatives and members of the SPCA.
Fernandez entered the court room quivering and glanced back to her family members, who were huddled together in the same row of seats, with tears in her eyes before pulling her jacket hood over her head.
At the court, Vickers said she was still finding it hard to believe that Fernandez may be responsible for defrauding the SPCA.
She said Fernandez was always charming, calling her “darling” and “my friend” every time they spoke.
In a statement on Friday, the SPCA stressed that the money in question was allegedly taken by Fernandez prior to it reaching the organisation.
“Income meant for the SPCA was not received and paid directly into the former employee’s bank account,” the SPCA alleged.
SPCA chairperson Dave Taylor said in the statement that even if the full amount in question was paid to the SPCA, criminal charges would not be dropped.
“It is extremely serious, unethical and downright dishonest when funds meant for animals are taken unlawfully,” Taylor said.
Source : news24