Two women have been jailed after defrauding a vulnerable Whitby businesswoman out of thousands of pounds.
Elizabeth Johnson - also known as Elizabeth Hill - and Machele Caroline Farrar were jailed at York Crown Court today after each being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position at an earlier hearing.
Johnson, 67, of West Square, Scarborough, was jailed for four years and Farrar, 60, of Manor Road, Scarborough, was jailed for three years and six months.
North Yorkshire Police today revealed the victim in the case, 54-year-old Fiona Rhodes, died a short time after the investigation began.
She had been running a caravan site in Whitby with a turnover of around £500,000.
For personal reasons, she struggled to cope with the management and financial side of her business and in 2013 was contacted out of the blue by Elizabeth Johnson who offered to help reduce the business’ utility bills.
She offered her services for “free” and also helped generally around the caravan site.
Within two years, Johnson had introduced Farrar who offered to help with the payroll and accounting side of the business.
Neither of them had any formal qualifications in the work they were offering.
Det Con Mark Butcher, of North Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “Farrar and Johnson preyed on a vulnerable victim in the late Fiona Rhodes, taking advantage of her inability to run her business without assistance.
"They betrayed her trust through dishonest and deliberate money transfers from the business to their own bank accounts, in order to fund their own lifestyles with the majority of the money being gambled away through Hill’s online gambling addiction."
In 2015, the site manager became concerned after noticing large sums of money were being taken from the business account, leaving insufficient funds to pay bills. He reported his concerns to Fiona and her accountant.
Following an analysis of the bank accounts by the accountant, it became clear that a significant amount of money had been taken from Fiona’s business account.
It was found that £256,000 was transferred from the business account into Farrar’s own bank account and Johnson banked cheques to the value of £65,951.
While some of it was used to pay staff wages and company bills, it was established that Farrar stole £51,548 and laundered £84,131 and Johnson stole £150,062.
Both denied the allegations, with Farrar claiming she only took what she was entitled to and was guided by Johnson.
Johnson claimed she took the money for services rendered, but admitted she sometimes took more than she was entitled to and gave herself extra in the form of a bonus.
Although both submitted extortionate invoices for their services that did not reflect the work carried out, a significant proportion of money taken from the business remains unaccounted for.
Det Con Butcher said: “The success of this prosecution is as a result of a two-year investigation brought about by the honesty and integrity of the park manager who first noticed the anomalies and reported the matter to Fiona’s accountants. With their careful analysis of the bank accounts, the true extent of the offending was identified.
“I hope today’s outcome provides some comfort to Fiona’s family and friends and sends a message to anyone who believes they will get away with betraying the trust of anyone, particularly a vulnerable person who needs help.”