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Former bank employee stole more than $2 million from clients to fund gambling addiction

A former St George Bank employee who withdrew more than $2 million from his clients’ accounts to fund his gambling addiction has been jailed for more than six years.

Simon John Harris, 37, pleaded guilty to 315 counts of obtaining a benefit by fraud.

On Friday, the WA District Court was told how Harris committed the fraud offences in his capacity as a business relationship manager with the St George Bank in WA.

He was based on St Georges Terrace until his employment was terminated in November last year.

The court heard Harris was directly responsible for managing and developing the accounts in his portfolio of commercial clients. 

He had access to the financial accounts of 40 clients.

Harris had developed a gambling addiction, the court heard, and due to his losses he began “targeting opportunities available through work to fund his gambling.”

The frauds occurred over a seven-and-a-half-year period, beginning in March 2009 through to September 2016.

Over that period Harris obtained more than $2.1 million via 315 separate transactions. 

The court heard Harris “manipulated” three of his customers’ accounts, effectively creating a liability of $981,035 against one customer, $984,955 against the second and $209,200 against a third customer.

Harris would create false documents purporting to be from the client, requesting him to withdraw money on their behalf.

To obtain further funds from the line of credit accounts, he also submitted falsified applications on behalf of the account holders, and forged their signatures to enable the increase on their line of credit or overdraft without their knowledge.

St George Bank referred discrepancies in the accounts to their parent company, Westpac Banking Corporation, in 2016.

The Westpac Group Investigations Team soon commenced an investigation.

Harris voluntarily participated in an interview with the Westpac investigators, during which he initially denied any wrongdoing.

Subsequently, he later admitted to wilfully deceiving the bank and its customers and the case was referred to WA Police.

When asked by detectives how much he was spending each week on gambling, he indicated up to $15,000 a week. 

In sentencing Harris to six and a half years jail, Judge Michael Bowden said he accepted he was genuinely remorseful. 

“There’s no doubt that if you had to live your time again you wouldn’t be involved in this sort of offending again,” Judge Bowden said.

“And I can well and truly understand… that you feel ashamed and humiliated for your conduct.”

The court heard Harris had made genuine efforts at rehabilitation, had received psychological counselling and had attended gamblers anonymous.

Judge Bowden made a compensation order in favour of Westpac Banking Corporation to the sum of $2,175,190.

Harris’ sentence was backdated to February this year.

He will be eligible for parole after serving four and a half years.

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