Cruise Ship Purser Accused of $400,000 Theft

An employee taken off a Princess Cruises ship appeared in a Ketchikan court Friday on charges she stole $400,000 in cash from the vessel’s safe.

Elisha Cuffe, of New South Wales, Australia, was a purser on the Sapphire Princess, a job that sometimes gave her access to more than $1.5 million in cash, according to the criminal complaint.

Cuffe, 32, appeared in Ketchikan District Court, where she was charged with felony theft and her bail was set at $30,000 cash. She declined to have authorities contact the Australian consulate, Alaska state troopers said. Her passport was seized and turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said authorities are also considering federal charges of transferring stolen money through international waters.

Over the course of several weeks beginning in late May, Cuffe noticed the ship’s computer records were not showing the correct totals of the cash that was actually on hand, investigators say. Cuffe took the extra money to her cabin, stored it in a cardboard box, and placed it near the foot of her bed, according to reports.

A search of Cuffe’s cabin Wednesday resulted in the recovery of $400,000 in U.S. bills, $40 in Canadian currency, $4,660 in U.S. traveler’s checks and $9,700 in credit card payment slips, the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors says.

The traveler’s checks and credit card slips may have been picked up with the cash by mistake, said investigating trooper Gary Webb.

Cruise security held Cuffe for a day until they reached port in Ketchikan on Thursday.

Senior staff members had noticed the money discrepancies and questioned Cuffe. It wasn’t until August, though, that they concluded an internal investigation and notified law enforcement authorities.

Cuffe was a 10-year employee of the cruise line. She had recently been promoted to the senior assistant purser position on the 2,670-passenger ship.

According to the ship’s Web site, it is currently on a regular schedule of seven-day cruises from Vancouver to Whittier, and back again, through the Inside Passage.

“We normally don’t have a whole lot of crime coming from the cruise ships,” said trooper Webb, who is based out of Ketchikan, a popular destination for cruise ships. Most investigations that troopers become involved in are older passengers who die.

“This is quite unusual and I think everyone is pretty surprised at the amount of money recovered.”

article by MEGAN HOLLAND – Anchorage Daily News