Auckland chef Mehdi Soheili escaped jail last week after pleading guilty to going on a gambling spree when he discovered that $141,000 had been mistakenly credited to his bank account.
Mr Soheili was sentenced in Auckland District Court to six months’ community detention, 200 hours of community work and a year’s supervision when he admitted spending $106,217 at SkyCity Casino after he found the money had mistakenly been transferred to his bank account in November 2013.
He was also ordered to pay back over $103,000 still owing to the bank, as well as undergoing counselling and taking part in a problem gambling program. To date, Mr Soheili, 32, has paid back around $2500 and it is estimated that, at a rate of $150 a week, it will take him around 13 years to repay the total sum. The bank has added the money owing to his account, which means he now has an enormous overdraft in excess of $100,000.
In pleading for leniency and arguing against a home detention sentence, Mr Soheili’s lawyer Shannon Withers called it “an unfortunate crime of opportunity” and that he was, by all objective standards, someone who could be considered a problem gambler. Previous offences, including several driving-related offences that occurred between 1999 and 2009, were also taken into account.
In response, Judge Tony Fitzgerald took a suitably lenient view, calling it “opportunistic offending” and said that if he sentenced the chef to anything more than community detention he would be unable to work and therefore in no position to pay back the money that he owed the casino.
“It’s less serious than a situation where someone set about stealing money in a planned, premeditated fashion…but temptation proved too much for you,” Judge Fitzgerald said. The judge, however, gave Mr Soheili credit for the efforts he had already made to start paying back the money and his willingness to accept his guilt and cooperate with investigators.
The bank, which remains unnamed, took over a week to discover its error, at which time it froze Mr Soheili’s account. However, in the intervening eight days he took full advantage of the bank teller’s error, living it up like a high roller. Six months ago, Mr Sheila obtained a self-exclusion from SkyCity that prevents him from entering the casino.
This case is reminiscent of that to Leo Gao of Rotorua, who received $10 million in error and then went on a spending spree for over two years. Mr Gao was released on parole in November 2013 after being sentenced to a jail term of four years and seven months.