| 7.5°C Belfast

Disgraced NI accountant Gareth Booth jailed for £600k fraud

A disgraced company chartered accountant who gambled and lost almost £600,000 of his employer’s money to fund his share trading addiction has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Gareth Booth was sentenced at Londonderry Crown Court on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old, from Annaghmore Mews in Castledawson, who had no previous criminal convictions, pleaded guilty to fraud by abusing his position as group operations director to transfer £586,694 from Northern Ireland businessman Neil McKibben between January 2017 and December 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to transferring £180,000 of Mr McKibben’s money into an account he had with Plus 500, an online international trading company, between August and November 2018.

Booth, who at times gambled double or quits to chase his losses, was described by his defence barrister John McCrudden QC as “the apple of his mother’s eye” and as someone “who had the world at his feet”.

The shamed accountant, who was in charge of a £2.5m renovation project at the time of the offending, has repaid back just over £21,000 to his former employer.

Mr McKibben, who was in court for the sentencing of his former accountant, is the owner of McKibben Holdings Limited and has several business interests including Business Investments Limited and Mercedes-Benz Truck And Van Limited at Mallusk.

Booth was responsible for running the Inspired Business Investments Limited and was given sole authorisation to withdraw from the account in September 2018. Three months later Booth told his employer that he had lost all of the money by trading in high risk Brent Oil Contract For Differences on his online account.

Mr McKibben reported the matter to police and investigators discovered the total amount of the fraud to have been almost £600,000.

They also discovered that Booth had been a prolific online trader with Plus 500 for four years. When he was interviewed by the police in January 2019 Booth refused to answer any questions but when interviewed again in March 2019 he gave a full account of his offending.

Booth, who was on a salary of £53,000 plus benefits, told the police he began using his employer’s money when he had lost £20,000 of his own money through his share trading addiction.

In his victim impact report, Mr McKibben said that Booth’s actions led to significant consequences for him and for his business interests. He had to quickly rearrange his financial situation and the growth prospects of his business were adversely affected, though none of his 300 employees lost their job.

Booth, whom the court was told thought could beat the odds by making shrewd investments, was told by Judge Philip Babington that by refusing to answer questions put to him by police officers at his first interview, he had made the officers carry out a great deal more investigative work.

“This is a very serious case in which you completely betrayed the trust that Mr McKibben had put in you,” Judge Babington told Booth.

“You quite deliberately took money that did not belong to you and embarked on a reckless spree of investing in a way that equates with gambling. You were quite convinced that you would be able to get Mr McKibben’s money back and it was only when a company loan had to be repaid you realised that this would not be possible and you had no alternative but to tell Mr McKibben the unpalatable truth.

“You have repaid in or about £20,000. You say you will repay the rest but you have no employment and unfortunately this is extremely unlikely”, Judge Babington said.

Booth will serve half of the sentence in jail and half on licence.

Belfast Telegraph