Hot computer led Yarra Trams to IT thief

A former Yarra Trams IT worker stole phones and computers worth $230,000, a court has heard.
A former Yarra Trams IT worker stole phones and computers worth $230,000, a court has heard.

A former Yarra Trams worker who stole IT gear worth $230,000 got caught when a computer overheated, a court has heard.

Paul Hewer, 36, worked in Yarra Trams' IT department until late 2020, where his job involved distributing laptops, phones and tablets to staff.

But it took Yarra Trams two years to realise that Hewer had also been distributing the valuable gear to himself and selling it on Facebook marketplace.

Hewer made about $54,000 from the scam from 2018 until November 2020, finally landing in hot water when one of the 132 laptops he'd sold began to overheat.

The new owner asked Dell to fix the problem, but the computer company told him it couldn't, unless he completed a "transfer of ownership" from the registered owner, Yarra Trams.

After he followed up with Yarra Trams, the public transport operator began to investigate, finding CCTV showing Hewer visiting head office outside work hours and leaving with boxes of mobile phones.

Then, a police search of Hewer's car uncovered stolen gear including iPhones and an Apple watch, along with hair growth treatment and vials of steroids, which Hewer told his lawyer he "used for training and weight loss".

Hewer admitted the scam to police, the court heard, but he told them he could not remember how many computers and phones he had sold.

On Monday, he appeared in court via video link and asked to be sentenced by a magistrate, rather than face a higher court.

Prosecutors have withdrawn 128 charges against him, replacing them with four rolled up charges, to which Hewer indicated he would formally plead guilty.

His defence lawyer, Zarah Garde-Wilson, said her client was under significant financial strain when the offending began, with a car loan, a personal loan and three credit cards.

She argued for Hewer to be spared a jail term in favour of a lengthy community corrections order.

"He should be given a significant discount for his early guilty plea, he has greatly assisted the administration of justice," she said.

But crown prosecutor Sam Profitt said the offending was extremely serious and involved a degree of sophistication.

Magistrate Tara Hartnett said it appeared he had engaged in excessive spending during a period of manic behaviour, but she had to prioritise general deterrence in sentencing, because Hewer's offending had involved a "gross breach of trust".

The matter has been adjourned for sentence on September 29.

Australian Associated Press