An accounts manager who stole thousands of pounds from her employer despite knowing the company was in financial difficulties was today jailed at Lincoln Crown Court.
Paula Moreno Melgar, who worked for the Stamford-based consultancy Tiger Asset Management, which provided advice to firms within the power industry, covered her tracks by wrongly recording payments which were being made into her own bank account.
But she was caught out after the company’s financial problems resulted in her being laid off as part of a number of cost cutting measures.
Owners Joanne and Ken Smithers were concerned about how the company had got into difficulties. The company’s books showed that there was a shortage of cash despite the fact that there appeared to have been a large number of orders.
Michael Cranmer-Brown, prosecuting, said “The company closed one of their premises and felt obliged to give the defendant her notice in February 2017 and that was the end of her employment.
“When the defendant was no longer working for the company Joanne Smithers began to look at the bank statements.”
Mr Cranmer-Brown said that it was then discovered that Moreno Melgar had set up a payment of £88 a day directly into her own bank account which were recorded as ‘bill payment’.
Other payments recorded as being made to companies such as EON and BT were also being paid into Moreno Melgar’s account.
He added: “There came a time when they were cut off by BT because the bill hadn’t been paid but in the accounts it showed it as being paid. This fraud may well have gone on for some time longer if she had not been let go by the company.”
The court was told that the company has since gone into liquidation.
Mr Cranmer-Brown said that Moreno Melgar had a previous conviction for a similar offence involving theft from a school where she was working which resulted in her receiving a suspended jail sentence at Nottingham Crown Court in 2007.
He said Moreno Melgar had been a trusted employee and Joanne Smithers was devastated when she discovered the thefts. “She had worked for them before and because of their knowledge of her she was trusted by them. They had no reason to doubt her trustworthiness. I suspect they knew nothing about her prior conviction.”
Joanne Smithers, in a statement, told the court she was left devastated by what happened and at times had been reduced to tears in the office trying to work out why the company was struggling.
At one point Moreno Melgar gave her £300 to help her out over Christmas using money stolen from the firm.
Ms Smithers said: “Paula was aware of the trauma I was going through as I was sitting in the office crying and not sure how we had got into this mess.
“My whole life fell apart. How can anyone in a position of trust who I considered to be a friend do such a despicable act?”
Moreno Melgar, 49, of Archers Way, Great Ponton, admitted a charge of fraud by abuse of position between November 2015 and February 2017 when she accepted taking £12,173.
She was jailed for 16 months. A hearing to consider confiscation of her available assets has been adjourned to a later date.
Judge John Pini QC, passing sentence, told her: “You were employed by Joanne and Ken Smithers. They trusted you absolutely, totally. For a period of 15 months you were regularly stealing their money. You concealed what you were doing by mis-recording it in the account records.
“The effect on Mr and Mrs Smithers has been immense. You were fully aware of the strain you were putting them under. I accept you were under pressure yourself but this was disgraceful behaviour. A custodial sentence is absolutely inevitable.”
Jenny Bordley, in mitigation, said Moreno Melgar was embarrassed and ashamed at what she had done and full of remorse. “She is very sorry. She accepts that whatever was going on at the time there is no excuse.”
Miss Bordley said that Moreno Melgar was in financial difficulties herself having given support to her two adult children and to her estranged husband whose parents were ill in Spain. Miss Bordley added she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“These proceedings have weighed heavily on her. She has been trying to seek help. She has had contact with the Citizens Advice Bureau in relation to her debt and has sought help from her GP for depression.”