A financial director stole more than £800,000 to fund her gambling addiction which contributed to hundreds of people being made redundant at the company she worked for.
Lauren Farr, 34, falsified invoices to prevent her employers at Cwmbran -based We Fight Any Claim from discovering her theft of thousands of pounds over four years.
She attributed 64 fraudulent payments to existing suppliers of the company in order to cover her tracks but she later confessed to an employee while on gardening leave about what she had done. In total £825,751 was stolen between March 10, 2016, and October 12, 2019.
As a result of her offending the chief executive of We Fight Any Claim, Richard Thomas, said the company had experienced difficulties and her actions contributed to redundancies which saw the workforce reduced from 600 to 50 people.
A hearing at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday heard Farr was living a “secret life” of gambling and drinking, the extent of which her own husband was unaware of.
Sentencing, Judge Neil Bidder QC said: “You defrauded the company you worked for and had risen to a position of financial director and you were a qualified accountant.
“You carried out a sophisticated and well-concealed fraud where you fabricated invoices and manipulated accounts which caused substantial losses and it had a substantial detrimental effect on the company, contributing to employees being made redundant.”
Prosecutor Alexander Greenwood said the fraud came to light on December 12, 2019, when Mr Thomas became aware of payments from company accounts which did not have associated invoices – a policy of the company.
A colleague contacted the suppliers named on the payments to ask for invoices but it was confirmed that they had not received such payments. At this stage a loss of £70,000 was discovered and was traced to one bank account in the Cwmbran area.
When Farr, who was visited at her home by a colleague, was told about what had happened she confessed: saying “It was me.”
The defendant, who worked at We Fight Any Claim for 13 years and was on an annual salary of around £70,000, attended the company’s offices and admitted stealing £60,000. She promised to repay the money and a payment of £5,000 was made in December 2019 and her BMW was transferred into the company’s name.
But an investigation by the company’s accounts department revealed the loss to be much more than initially thought and was found to be more than £800,000.
When confronted Farr admitted to being a gambling addict and disclosed payments from her account to gambling companies such as Paddy Power and Betfair.
She claimed she did not know the full amount she had stolen and when asked for the login details for her online bank accounts she refused citing embarrassment. The police were called and Farr was interviewed at Pontypool police station on August 12 last year.
She confirmed she had fabricated and falsified invoices to make them look genuine then would archive them and transfer money company accounts into her own account.
The defendant denied being in financial trouble at the start of her offending but said “it got out of control” and led her to gambling more to win back the money she had taken.
Mother-of-two Farr, of Spring Grove, Cwmbran, later pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position.
In a victim personal statement Mr Thomas said he had “significant trust” in Farr and she was aware of pay cuts and growing uncertainty in the future of the company while she was stealing.
Mr Greenwood added: “He said the defendant’s actions had a significant impact upon the business and it would have been healthier were it not for the stolen funds.”
It was also revealed that Farr had lost in the region of £1.5m by gambling.
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Defence barrister Ieuan Bennett said his client had made attempts to repay the money but conceded Farr would “never be in a position to repay the entire amount”.
He added: “The defendant became addicted to online gambling. There must have been some deep-rooted pains in her life and it must have had a therapeutic effect on her.
“For months she was gambling quite significant sums secretly at home and her husband had no idea about the totality of her difficulties until recently.
“She was drinking alone and gambling online at night in an attempt to improve her own position.
“She was on a good salary and had a decent future but that has all been thrown away. The fall from grace has been massive for her.”
Farr was sentenced to two years and eight months imprisonment.