Brainwash spares cult reject jail

Sydney, Austalia - A JEHOVAH'S Witness stole more than $50,000 from banks after being thrown out of the sect for getting pregnant out of wedlock, a court heard yesterday.

Coral Acacia-Volkmer, 27, avoided jail after telling the court she had been brainwashed by the cult for more than 24 years.

The single mother of a boy, 2, was ordered to do 240 hours unpaid community work and repay more than $50,000 she stole from banks and credit unions.

The Dandenong Magistrates' Court heard that between January 2003 and January last year Acacia-Volkmer presented 62 cheques at nine banking institutions totalling $155,895.

The court heard she told the banks -- mostly in Hamilton -- they were wage cheques to withdraw the money immediately.

She withdrew $53,920 before the cheques were dishonoured.

A surfer, who last year competed in the Roxy Jam Tournament, Acacia-Volkmer has won two awards for customer service since starting with a telecommunications company two years ago.

Her lawyer, Mr Michael Kuzilny, told the court his client was depressed after the Jehovah's Witnesses, including her own family, rejected her when she became pregnant.

Mr Kuzilny said before becoming pregnant her marriage failed and her husband sold their home and took everything because men made the rules in the sect.

Acacia-Volkmer became pregnant to another man and after the man left her she turned to crime to pay off her debts.

"She was depressed and disillusioned with the world," Mr Kuzilny said.

He said his client had no friends because she had been involved with the Jehovah's for 24 years.

In that time she went to church five days a week and "walked the streets of Australia promoting the Jehovah's".

He said Acacia-Volkmer had been forced to give more than half her wages to the church since she began working seven years ago.

Acacia-Volkmer, formerly of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to 62 charges of obtaining property by deception.

Magistrate Brian Clifford convicted her and released her on a 12-month community based order.