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Cocaine addict stole $300,000 from media company to fund habit and bankroll a lavish lifestyle

A cocaine addict stole almost $300,000 from the media agency she worked for and splurged the cash on drugs, nights out and takeaway meals for her and her girlfriend.   

Kimberley Harlow, 29, worked as the head of digital and creative at Essential Media Communications in Melbourne when she stole $291,450 between November 2017 and December 2018. 

Harlow created 132 fake invoices priced between $300-$11,000 that were paid to the company she owned with her business partner and ex-girlfriend Allegra Wilson.

She charged the company for work that did not exist such as video editing and digital services, before sending the money to Condiment Creative Pty Ltd, the Herald Sun reports.

When chief operating officer Natalie Dubois questioned Harlow on why the expenses were over budget, she was always given a ‘legitimate response’.

The County Court on Thursday heard that Ms Dubois held a performance review in November 2018 where she told Harlow her work performance had ‘significantly’ declined over the year.

Ms Dubois issued the 29-year-old with a ‘first and final’ warning but Harlow blamed her partner’s mental health issues for her performance and she continued stealing money.

The media agency’s accountant traced the unexpected costs to Condiment Creative, which shared the same BSB as Harlow’s bank account.

An investigation found Harlow and her former girlfriend were directors of the company. 

Harlow finally admitted to her boss that she stole the money.

She told senior management that she needed the funds because she and her ex-girlfriend had a cocaine addiction and she ‘owed people money’, the court heard.

Further investigation found some of the money was transferred to other people while the rest was used to fund flights, hotels, bars, parking and UberEats.

When Harlow was caught and reported to police there was just $301.16 remaining in the account.

Police attempted to talk to her in February 2019 but she had fled to a drug rehabilitation facility in Queensland before she was finally tracked down and arrested in June 2019.

Ms Dubois issued a victim statement saying Harlow’s theft had ‘damaged’ projects and affected the agency’s reputation.

‘(Harlow’s) dishonesty was a betrayal of not just the owners but the entire company and its ethos and values,’ Ms Dubois said in the statement. 

‘Alongside Kim’s brazen fraud of the company, we also discovered a record of misconduct and disregard for our team members and clients that had gone undiscovered due to her senior position of trust within the company.’

Ms Dubois said the incident caused ‘significant trauma’ to the agency and created stress across ‘the entire organisation’. 

‘Kim’s behaviour had a serious impact on our culture and the friendly and trusting environment cultivated over many years,’ the impact statement said.  

Harlow pleaded guilty to theft and is due to be sentenced by Judge Michael Tinney on Tuesday.

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