The manager of a dairy products company affiliated with Fonterra has been found guilty of deceiving her employers by profiting from the resale of costly milk powder, which she falsely labeled as a cheaper product. Hamilton resident Kate Carter, aged 43 and a mother, narrowly avoided imprisonment for her fraudulent actions. Instead, she has been sentenced to 12 months of home detention, a stark contrast to her previous lifestyle that included home improvements and vacations.
Kate Carter, 43, of Hamilton, narrowly avoided jail after admitting her role in stealing $726,000 from her former employer, NZAgbiz. Photo / Belinda Feek
Another former colleague who faced similar charges is still disputing the allegations and is scheduled to face trial in the Timaru District Court later this year.
Carter began her employment at NZAgbiz in October 2008 as a logistics planning coordinator. NZAgbiz is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fonterra, with its headquarters in Te Rapa and processing facilities in Waharoa and Temuka. The company purchases various dairy products, such as whole milk powder and buttermilk powder, from Fonterra and other sources, processing them into animal nutrition products like calf milk replacers. By 2015, Carter had been promoted to the role of raw materials manager, overseeing the procurement of refrigerated goods from dairy manufacturers, reselling them, and dealing with various milk powders.
In August 2019, Carter resigned from her position after being informed of the investigation into her activities.
Carter pleaded guilty to five representative charges of causing financial loss through deception related to the theft. She acknowledged her involvement in 62 transactions between February 1, 2018, and September 3, 2019, where she sold 1530 metric tonnes of dairy products from NZAgbiz at significantly below-market prices. She utilized the illicit gains to support her lifestyle, including home renovations, vacations, and daily expenses.
NZAgbiz incurred a total loss of $726,057, while Carter received “salary” payments of $449,293 from her co-accused’s company. Among the 62 sales, 22 involved altering invoice and sales order data to misrepresent the product being sold, while 40 sales involved changes in invoice and sales data while keeping the original Fonterra text invoice unaltered.
During her sentencing, Judge Kim Saunders characterized Carter’s actions as “cynical, calculated, and deliberate,” rejecting the defense’s claim that they were merely “opportunistic.” Prosecutor Brendon Mills also emphasized the premeditated nature of her offenses and noted her decision to cooperate with the prosecution in her co-accused’s trial.
Defense counsel Tom Sutcliffe expressed Carter’s genuine remorse and willingness to cooperate with the authorities, including assisting in her co-accused’s trial. He highlighted that she had been forthcoming about her actions when initially questioned by the police and had worked with Fonterra executives to determine the extent of the losses incurred.
Carter had also reached a settlement agreement with NZAgbiz to reimburse her portion of the stolen funds and has since taken up employment as a cleaner. A pre-sentence report indicated that she poses a low risk of reoffending and harming others.
Judge Saunders acknowledged the emotional impact of Carter’s actions on her former employer and co-workers, noting that she had previously been highly trustworthy and reliable. However, her actions now require her to help her children come to terms with her wrongdoing.