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Sunshine Coast gambling addict mum Andrea Johnston spent $480,000 over four years at Caloundra RSL

A single mother-of-two fed $480,000 into pokie machines in just four years – including $93,000 left in a trust fund to her daughter when her father died of a heroin overdose.

Andrea Jenelle Johnston narrowly avoided jail on Monday despite failing to repay her daughter, Kaeli Danielle Casey, now 23, $71,969 of the money owed to her.

Johnston, 45, was given two years from June 2018 to repay $91,000 after gambling the money away on pokie machines at Caloundra RSL on the Sunshine Coast. 

Maroochydore Magistrates Court heard she had hardly made a dent on that sum in the allotted time and ordered she pay $1,000 a month to Kaeli until the debt is paid.

She must also pay a lump sum of $8,000 by May 1 after she was granted early access to her superannuation.

Johnston’s Legal Aid lawyer pushed for the payment plan in favour of a six month jail term, which would wipe the debt clean. 

Andrea Jenelle Johnston narrowly avoided jail on Monday despite failing to repay her daughter, Kaeli Danielle Casey, now 23, $71,969 of the money owed to her

The mother-of-two, whose youngest son is 14, has repeatedly expressed her desire to repay every cent she stole while in the grips of her gambling addiction.  

She penned two remorseful letters to the judge and another to her daughter swearing she would find a way to return the money.

In the first of the letters, the mother-of-two explained that she was ‘deeply ashamed’ of her actions.

‘I had become lost in the loneliness and darkness of my own pain… I made bad choices when my doubts were high and self worth was low,’ she wrote. 

Johnston has been seeking treatment for her addiction for five years without a single relapse, but admitted there was a time when she didn’t think recovery was possible. 

‘Nothing will ever take away from the hurt and pain I’ve brought upon myself and the destruction I’ve caused between my daughter and I, but I am extremely shameful.’

She said becoming a mother was her proudest achievement, and she hopes that by one day repaying the money she stole, she will be able to rebuild her relationship with Kaeli.

‘Kaeli, I never intended to hurt those around me when I was hurting… Especially you. I have let you down and will live with the shame and guilt of what I have done all my life.’ 

She penned two remorseful letters to the judge and another to her daughter swearing she would find a way to return the money. Pictured: The contents of the letter addressed to Kaeli

She penned two remorseful letters to the judge and another to her daughter swearing she would find a way to return the money. Pictured: The contents of the letter addressed to Kaeli

But her lawyer said the money would be hard to come by in a short time frame given Johnston’s comparatively low earning capacity.

While Johnston is a registered nurse, she has struggled to find stable and regular employment since the 2018 conviction and relied on Covid relief benefits throughout much of 2020.

The court heard Johnston was earning between $9,000 and $20,000 a year for the six years prior to tapping into Kaeli’s trust fund in 2013.

Kaeli’s father was in arrears on child support payments by $13,263 at the time of his death in 2009. 

While Johnston’s addiction demonstrably worsened as time went on, the court heard she first began gambling at just eight years old.

During his sentencing remarks, the judge indicated that Johnston told the court this was ‘learnt behaviour’ from her own mother and troubled childhood. 

Andrea Johnston’s letter to her daughter 

To Kaeli, I never intended to hurt those around me when I was hurting. Especially you.

I was at war with myself and sadly those I loved became casualties. I have let you down and will live with the shame and guilt of what I have done all my life. 

There is no sentence that anyone could pass upon me that will be harsher than the punishment I pass onto myself every day. 

I will do everything in my power to repay the money I owe you and never let you down again. You didn’t deserve this and i am so sorry.

I had become lost in the loneliness and darkness of my own pain. I made bad choices when my doubts were high and my self worth was low.

Andrea Johnston’s letter to the court

Nothing will ever take away from the hurt and pain I’ve brought upon myself and the destruction I’ve caused between my daughter and I, but I am extremely shameful. 

Five years ago… I thought suicide was my only way out, not recovery. 

I love both of my kids dearly and wholeheartedly and being a mum is the proudest moment in my life. 

I never got to see my baby turn 18 or 21. I have already missed out on so many moments in her life.

She is yet to get married and have children and I pray that I will be fortunate enough to share those experiences with her… after she has received every last cent in repayment from me.

 

The mother-of-two was granted access to Kaeli’s trust fund in 2010, just months after the then-12-year-old’s father died of a heroin overdose. 

In total, there was $91,000 placed in two separate term deposits. The first held $80,000, while the second held the remainder. 

On interest accrued, the latter account eventually totalled about $21,000 and was legitimately spent on Kaeli’s care – namely her education, trips away and buying furniture for her bedroom.

But from about 2013 onwards, the remainder of the money in the second trust dwindled as Johnston transferred it between the account set up for Kaeli and her own personal fund.

The theft extended over a period of four years and in increments ranging from just $500 to $29,000 at a time. 

Evidence handed over by Caloundra RSL Club (pictured, inside the pokie machine room) shows Johnston fed about $480,000 through their machines over that four year period

Evidence handed over by Caloundra RSL Club (pictured, inside the pokie machine room) shows Johnston fed about $480,000 through their machines over that four year period

In total, she spent 360 hours on pokie machines inside the RSL club and continued to do so until her account with them was suspended with a balance of about $17,000 during the investigation

In total, she spent 360 hours on pokie machines inside the RSL club and continued to do so until her account with them was suspended with a balance of about $17,000 during the investigation

Evidence handed over by Caloundra RSL Club shows Johnston fed about $480,000 through their machines over that four year period. 

In total, she spent 360 hours on pokie machines inside the RSL club and continued to do so until her account with them was suspended with a balance of about $17,000 during the investigation. 

During her initial sentencing hearing, the judge was baffled to hear that Johnston claimed to be concerned about how her daughter would spend the money if it was handed to her in a lump sum.

The prosecutor said that while ‘she was motivated by greed… there’s some concern on her part as to what her daughter would do with the money at the time’.  

‘It’s rather the pot calling the kettle,’ the judge responded.  

Johnston, 45, was given two years from June 2018 to repay $91,000 after gambling the money away on pokie machines at Caloundra RSL on the Sunshine Coast

Johnston, 45, was given two years from June 2018 to repay $91,000 after gambling the money away on pokie machines at Caloundra RSL on the Sunshine Coast

Johnston’s relationship deteriorated with Kaeli well before the teen learned her inheritance had been spent.  

She had previously noted her daughter’s truancy issues and her lawyer claimed her own troubled upbringing made it difficult for her to empathise with Kaeli.

In late November 2015, Johnston contacted Kaeli – who by this point was 18 and had been living out of home for ‘some time’ – and told her of her intention to invest the money into an investment property.

Kaeli refused and asked for the money to be transferred immediately into her grandmother’s account. 

At the time, Johnston had already spent a significant portion of the money. The day after the conversation, she drained the remaining $59,000 and gambled it all away.

Johnston has been seeking help for her addiction issues for five years now, and has not relapsed since the offences against her daughter.

She has expressed a desire to prove to others struggling with addiction that it is possible to overcome when seeking help through the correct avenues.  

For support regarding gambling addiction, contact the Gambling Help website or helpline on 1800 858 858

Lifeline: 13 11 14 

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 

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