A lettings agent in Rochdale stole a ‘significant sum’ from her employer in a fraud that saw her siphoning off landlords’ rental payments into her own accounts.
Joanne Barker left her estate agency on the brink of bankruptcy after four years of fraudulent activity, during which she cheated her employers out of money.
Barker joined Barton Kendal in 2009 and became the firm’s lettings manager at the Rochdale branch. However, her crimes came to light when landlords complained that they had not received their rental payments and that Barker only paid them when they ‘persisted’ that money was missing.
Jo-Anne and Ian Tweedley, the family firm’s owners instigated an investigation. This was even though they were not just employers of Barker and her husband, Paul but also their business partner because, the four of them had opened another branch of the firm in Middleton, which Paul managed, each owning a quarter share. Both branches were run as separate companies with separate bank accounts.
Police officers found that some cheques from the firm were made out to Joanne Barker and her husband, all in Joanne’s handwriting.
Two were made out to Joanne herself and three more to Paul, totalling £2,745. The recipient account of the cheques signed to Paul belonged to Joanne Barton, while none of the cheques actually ended up in his accounts.
At trial, Joanne Barker was spared a custodial sentence, partly because the judge felt that a jail term would punish her elderly mother, for whom she is the full-time carer, and partly because the amount stolen was also in dispute.
Forensic accountants working for the firm’s insurers concluded that the amount defrauded was £128,868 rather than the £28,868 alleged by the prosecution. However, the judge’s sentence was made on the basis of the lower amount.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “Businesses of all types, both large and small, can be the victims of fraud and so it is important that owners have processes in place to check for risk and fraud.
“Even where they consider employees to be friends, no one should be above suspicion. In this case, the Tweedley’s trust almost cost them their business.
“The amount of money lost by the Tweedley family was deemed to be lower by a judge than the estimates of forensic accountants but, in any event, the fraudsters appear to have spent whatever they may have stolen meaning that the chances of recovering any of the misappropriated funds might well have been slim.”
Sources: Manchester Evening News