Teacher who lied about having cancer sent to jail
A once popular and respected IT teacher at a private school in Hilton, just outside Pietermaritzburg‚ who lied that she had cancer and was dying‚ was sentenced to an effective five years in jail on Wednesday for stealing more than R2-million from the school through false invoicing.
Vindra Jaickaran Chhoteylal Moodley‚ 49‚ who taught at Cowan House Preparatory School‚ pleaded guilty in the Durban Commercial Crime Court earlier this year to 74 counts of fraud. She admitted that in 2014 she lied to the school that she had been diagnosed with cancer and only had four months to live.
She confirmed that she had produced fake letters from doctors and a hospital oncology department which stated that she was dying from ovarian cancer.
As a result of this‚ she was placed on sick leave on full pay and the school had to employ a replacement teacher‚ she said in her written plea.
But while sympathy for her was high‚ she was stealing from the school’s funds by producing false invoices for the purchase and maintenance of computer hardware and software. The money was actually paid into her own bank accounts which she used to fund a “luxurious lifestyle”‚ including buying a house and a new car.
She claimed the money for this came from a trust fund set up by her father.
When she was caught out through a mistake on one of the invoices she tried to pin the blame on her son‚ whose computer she was using at the time.
She pleaded guilty because the writing was on the wall.
In handing down a sentence of 10 years‚ half of which was suspended‚ magistrate Judy Naidoo said Moodley had betrayed those who trusted her.
“She claims that she was not in a proper state of mind‚ that she was mentally ill. But the court is not convinced of this. She set upon a profitable scheme which she thought she could get away with to feed her extravagance.
“She pleaded guilty because the writing was on the wall‚” the magistrate said.
Evidence during sentencing proceedings was that Moodley had been treated for major depression in the past‚ presented with bipolar disorder and had “delusions of grandeur”.
Former colleagues at the school testified that she had been an excellent teacher and hockey coach and had a good relationship with the learners.
There was an attempt to settle the matter and Moodley promised to repay some of the money‚ but the governing body had refused to drop the criminal charges “because it would set a bad example‚ especially to the learners”.
Moodley’s estate had been sequestrated and she owed money to several banks.
“This crime is a very serious and prevalent one. Employers expect honesty from their employees because they cannot have a finger on the pulse of every transaction‚” the magistrate said. “Those she worked with could not believe that this happened on their watch. It has been an emotional and financial setback for the school‚ to the detriment of the learners.”
Naidoo said any sentence other than direct imprisonment would just be a “slap on the wrist”.
Regarding submissions that she was not “prison material”‚ she said the court would not discriminate against people from different backgrounds.
“She can use her IT skills in prison… she has to pay a debt to society. The suspended portion of the sentence will give her some light at the end of the tunnel and motivate her to rehabilitate herself‚” the judge said.