A Canberra woman who allegedly stole a “staggering” amount of money from a childcare centre broke down in tears when she was told she would not be released from custody.
Emma Louise Morton, 46, has been charged with 23 counts of obtaining property by deception after allegedly stealing over $160,000 from the Weston Creek Children’s Centre, a community-based not-for-profit childcare service where she has been the centre director for 22 years.
On Friday, the Australian Federal Police said investigations into the alleged misappropriation of more than $480,000 were continuing.
According to the statement of facts in Ms Morton’s case, from July 2020 to February 2021, she allegedly made 23 transfers of different amounts of money from one of the centre’s bank accounts to bank accounts in her name.
Transactions to her own account ranged from under $1000 to over $32,000. Police allege the total was about $163,000.
The facts further state in March and April 2020, a staff member at the centre allegedly found three transactions worth $130,000 had been made in those months from one of the centre’s bank accounts.
When they approached Ms Morton over the issue, she allegedly said their bank had advised her to move the first transaction of $50,000 to another bank and call it the “COVID account” and that the two other transactions were to put money in a six-month term deposit.
Police said the destination of all these funds were currently unknown.
When the Campbell woman appeared before the ACT Magistrates Court to apply for bail on Friday, Magistrate Glenn Theakston described the potential amounts that had been allegedly misappropriated from the childcare centre as “staggering”.
The prosecutor said the likelihood of further charges being laid over the matter was quite high, and she opposed bail due to the possibility of Ms Morton interfering with alleged evidence.
Ms Morton’s lawyer said the allegations detailed in the statement of facts showed transactions that were “not sophisticated” and were “rudimentary at best”, so she would not be tampering with alleged evidence.
He also said financial offences could take a long time to work through the court system.
Magistrate Theakston ultimately refused bail due to the concerns about potentially interfering with evidence, saying he wanted Ms Morton to remain in custody “for the immediate future” to allow police to complete their investigations.
Ms Morton, who appeared in the court over an audiovisual link, could be seen placing her head in her hands after his decision, then broke down and could be heard sobbing as the hearing ended.
The AFP said the care of children at the childcare centre was not compromised as a result of Ms Morton’s alleged actions and police were liaising with Australian Government regulators to assist the centre continue operating.