Belfast Telegraph

Suicide bid of accountant who stole £50k to feed online bingo habit

By Rebecca Black

A chartered accountant sobbed and clung to a relative as she was jailed for six months for stealing £50,000 from her clients to feed a bingo addiction.

Lisa Carville (34), of Cumber Hill, Drumaness, Co Down, was sentenced to 18 months. She will serve six in prison.

She admitted 18 charges of fraud by abuse of position and one of forgery. She swindled money set aside by clients to pay their tax bills and blew it on sites such as bingo site jackpotjoy.com.

The fraud was committed while Carville was working for Peter O'Hare Accountants between January 2010 and September 2012, when she took 55 cheques worth a total of £59,000 from clients.

One of these cheques was never cashed, reducing the total amount swindled to £50,000.

Downpatrick Crown Court heard yesterday that she needed the money for a gambling habit that had spiralled out of control.

She had been a member of one gambling website since 2006, but her activity had initially been fairly minor before increasing significantly. The court heard she was so ashamed when her fraud was exposed that she attempted suicide.

Police investigations into matters were delayed while she received treatment in hospital.

Prosecuting lawyer Sam Magee outlined to the court how, as part of her work as a chartered accountant, Carville was able to see the account balances the various clients had with the HMRC and that, essentially, she used any money which was surplus to either gamble or to "top up" monies she had already used.

But the fraud fell apart when the tax office contacted a client in September 2012 to query a cheque which Carville had made out to herself. He in turn contacted the offices of O'Hare, which was "entirely innocent" in the scam.

When she was asked about it Carville, who started working for the firm when she was 19 and worked her way up, went home claiming illness.

Defence barrister Joel Lindsay produced documentary evidence in court yesterday which showed that Carville first started gambling in June 2006, adding that while it started with small amounts "it increased and increased and increased".

She has paid back around £5,000 of the money through loans from her family. She also took up a job at a shop in Belfast to start to pay back her debt and has sought help for her gambling.

The £50,000 loss had fallen on indemnity insurers. The court heard that Carville's ex-employers are taking a civil action against her for the rest of the money. Judge David Smyth called Carville's case a sad one, noting she had overcome a great tragedy earlier in life, referring to a house fire in which three siblings died.

He noted that she has a record of public service, had worked hard and was previously well thought of by her employers. But he said her actions "set all this at nought", telling her: "You have lost your job and will lose your profession."

Judge Smyth said a suspended sentence is not in the public interest as he handed down 18 months, of which six must be served.

"It is unlikely that a professional person who abuses a fiduciary relationship with employer and client in any significant way can avoid actual imprisonment, even in the face of the strongest personal mitigation," he said.

Carville sat silent during the proceedings, breaking down into tears when she was sentenced. Family in the public gallery wept as she was taken down.

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