Woman gets six years for stealing millions from school

Merle Laity. Picture: Twitter.

Merle Laity. Picture: Twitter.

Merle Laity is the second former administrator at Cambridge High School in East London to receive a large jail sentence.

A former bursar at Cambridge High School in East London has been sentenced to six years in prison for stealing R2.3 million from the school over a period of five years, DispatchLive has reported.

56-year-old Merle Laity was convicted of eight counts of theft and one of fraud in May, over crimes that she was first caught committing in 2009. She was once a learner at the school she went on to defraud.

The administrator was found guilty of crimes including:

  • Stealing R132,000 from funds raised by the school’s PTA fundraisers
  • Stealing R312,195 that learners has paid for school blazers, badges, school camps and more
  • Stealing R178,000 that the school received for learners’ photographs
  • Stealing R5,000 from funds collected for the school’s matric dance

Laity was assistant to another disgraced former bursar from the school, Maria “Gerda” de Wet, who committed similar crimes to the tune of over R3 million, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The school’s former headmaster, Grassy Buitendag, told East London Regional Court that the school had struggled to pay salaries and creditors after the theft left the school in financial disarray.

“I am aware there were staff members who at times felt concerned they might not receive their salaries at month end. In fact, there were times when I was forced to ask one or two staff members if we could pay them a few days later,” he said.

Buitendag, who is no longer at the school, said the school was left “in such a dire situation that it was forced to investigate the possibility of making short-term bridging loans”.

“One of these was from our primary school, much to my embarrassment, and I also recall a loan arrangement with the past pupil’s association,” he told the court.

“Another effect on the school was that certain suppliers began to refuse to supply the school if outstanding debts were not paid up,” the former principal continued.

“I also began to receive irate phone calls from certain creditors complaining of not being paid,” he said.

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