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FDW who stole employer’s $14.6m jewelry jailed 4 years, 11 months

07 September 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Nones, who has been in prison for 2 years, could be set free in 15 months, says her lawyer

There was muted elation at the High Court earlier today, Sept 7, as a lower-than-expected sentence was imposed on Carmelita G. Nones, who admitted stealing at least $14.6 million worth of jewelry from her former employers, and her two co-accused.

Nones, 47, married with one son, was ordered jailed for four years and 11 months by Judge Andrew Bruce, SC, after she pleaded guilty to six counts of theft.

Her niece, Maricris G. Nones, 32; and cousin, Cristina G. Alagna, 50, were each jailed for one year and four months for pawning the stolen valuables, and should be freed soon after having been detained for the same length of time.

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But their joy at having been meted lenient sentences that took even lead defense lawyer Oliver Davies by surprise was tempered by a tragedy that left Carmelita sobbing loudly at the dock before the hearing started.

One of her relatives who was in court relayed the information that Carmelita’s husband in the Philippines passed away yesterday, after being stricken with Covid-19.

The relative said after the hearing that Carmelita’s son, as well as her father, have also tested positive for coronavirus, and have been put under isolation in their house in the northern province of La Union.

Carmelita also stole and pawned gold coins and gold bars

The bittersweet end to Carmelita’s wrongdoings came two years after she was arrested on Sept 4, 2019, for the biggest theft ever committed by a foreign domestic worker in Hong Kong.

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Her employers, business executive David Liang and his wife, Helen Frances, had been unaware until then that their domestic worker of six years had been slowly stealing jewelry and other valuables in their standalone house in Deep Water Bay for over a year.

To help her dispose of the stolen loot, Carmelita told her niece Maricris, who is single and had worked as a FDH in Hong Kong since 2015; and cousin Cristina, who is married and had worked here since 1996; to pawn the valuables in various pawnshops. But the bulk she hocked herself.

Apart from the pawned items, Carmelita, who was paid the minimum wage of $4,520, also hoarded many other pieces, enough to fill a bag with $4.8 million worth of jewelry which she had entrusted to her sister, Marina Biala

Biala has separately pleaded not guilty to a charge of handling stolen goods over this, and will undergo trial at the District Court later this month.

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It took the police to uncover the theft during a spot inspection of pawnshop records sometime in July 2019. They noticed the numerous pawnshop receipts in Carmelita's name and decided to investigate.

Armed with copies of the pawnshop tickets, the police visited the Liang couple in their house on Sept 4, 2019. After the couple confirmed ownership of the pawned properties, Carmelita's room was searched and more stolen items were found. She was arrested.

After her arrest, Maricris and Cristina went to see Mrs Liang and admitted pawning items belonging to the employer at Carmelita’s behest. Marina also came forward to turn over the bag containing Carmelita’s $4.8 million loot.

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According to Judge Bruce, the total value of the jewelry that Carmelita had stolen, and could be traced, amounted to $14,603,200.

The amount did not include jewelry that could no longer be recovered and whose value could not be ascertained, including a gold ring with diamonds, three bangles, three pairs of earrings, one necklace, two rings and a pendant.

Apart from the bag of jewelry that Marina turned over, all the other items worth more than $10 million were pawned by the three accused for just $946,100, or less than 10% of their value.

Rough estimates put the net loss to the Liang couple to at least $1.655 million, much of it spent redeeming the stolen valuables from the pawnshops. But it also included the cost of unrecovered items, including a matching pair of Piaget watches which Carmelita pawned for just $17,000 and could no longer be redeemed.

Her own relatives say Carmelita had this 4-storey house built in La Union

In a phone interview shortly after the case went to court, Mrs Liang told The SUN that she was clueless as to how Carmelita had managed to steal her valuables, which were kept in a safe at her home.

It was just unfortunate that she decided to take out many of the valuable items from a safety deposit box because her son was getting married at the time, Mrs Liang said.

Asked how Carmelita could have managed to get the combination for the safe in their house, Mrs Liang said, “I don’t know.”

She was, however, upset that the pawnshops where her stolen jewelry pieces were taken were not held to account. Nor was Carmelita’s boyfriend who was known to many of her friends and family members in Hong Kong, questioned about his possible involvement in the large-scale thefts.

Some of the stolen jewelry recovered from a pawnshop

In sentencing Carmelita, Judge Bruce said that the maximum penalty for thefts involving properties worth between $5million to $15million is 5-10 years in prison. 

He then imposed sentences of between a year to 5 years and six months for each of the charges against Carmelita, and ordered that they run consecutively as they were not continuing offences.

But if he added them all up, it would result to a prison term of 21 years, which the judge said was unfair.

Citing the totality principle, he used 8 years as a starting point, then gave a 33% discount for her guilty plea, and a further 5% for her clean record and her motivation for stealing. 

Arguing in mitigation, Davies said Carmelita had used the money she earned from pawning her employer’s valuables to pay off loans and the medical bills of her mother who was diabetic and had renal failure for which she had to undergo dialysis.

Bruce noted a statement submitted by Mrs Liang to court showing houses and cars allegedly bought by Carmelita from the proceeds of her crime, but over which he said “I have no way of ascertaining the truth.”

The judge did say he was taking into account the employer’s claim of feeling violated and betrayed by someone she had trusted.

“They have the effect of aggravating the sentence, I accept it as true,” said Bruce. “I will take them into account to aggravate the penalty.”

However, he also said Hong Kong has no law that recognizes the effect of such acts of violations on the victim.

One of the more expensive jewelry pieces pawned by Carmelita

As for the two other defendants, the judge used a starting point of two years and three months, even after pointing out at the start that the maximum penalty for handling stolen goods was 14 years.

After taking into consideration their guilty pleas, their act of going to Mrs Liang and telling her about the other stolen items that they had pawned, and their having been “shamelessly used” by Carmelita for her illegal deeds, he gave them a 40% discount on the sentence.

Davies said afterwards the two will likely stay in prison for about a month before they’re sent back to the Philippines. Carmelita would likely be detained for a further 15 months before she, too, is repatriated.

He said it is not likely the three will be allowed to work in Hong Kong again. 

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