The former owner of a Belfast-based marketing company who took cash from client accounts in an unsuccessful bid to keep his business afloat was spared a prison sentence yesterday.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland handed Gareth Campbell, who ran Absolute Marketing, an 18-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.
The 51-year old, from Church Road in Castlereagh, appeared at Belfast Crown Court where he admitted one charge of fraud by false representation and seven counts of transferring criminal property.
Campbell's offending, which occurred between January 2014 and June 2014, amounted to around £180,000.
Judge McFarland said around £70,000 was potentially recoverable via frozen assets.
All customers affected when Campbell made unauthorised transactions from their bank accounts have been reimbursed by a 'middleman' company, which suffered the greatest loss.
Before he passed sentence, Judge McFarland heard submissions from both the prosecution and defence.
Crown barrister Kate McKay said Campbell's offending began to emerge in May 2014 when Trading Standards launched an investigation into the affairs of Absolute Marketing.
The promotion business, which was based on the Ormeau Road, provided members with free or discounted hotel accommodation in return for an annual membership fee in the region of £250-£300.
Trading Standards launched its investigation after complaints were made by members of unauthorised transactions on their bank cards. Ms McKay said a majority of these unauthorised transactions between January and May 2014 were made at night when the business premises were closed, and that evidence indicated Campbell's phone was in the area at the relevant times.
Further complaints were made, Trading Standards met with police, and a company called Elavon acted as a middleman between each cardholder's bank and the merchants who processed the transaction.
In total, statements were taken from 37 affected cardholders, and all customers were fully refunded by Elavon.
There were also three transfers made from the business account to Campbell's wife in May 2014 totalling around £50,000, as well as two transfers from the Dublin-based business account into the same account.
Ms McKay said the Crown accepted that in the lead-up to May 2014 the business was in difficulty and that for a period Campbell was "introducing his own funds ... on a monthly basis".
Campbell was arrested and interviewed on three occasions in 2014 and 2015. He either denied allegations or gave a "no comment" response, and was unable to account for any of the unauthorised payments. A defence barrister said at one point Absolute Marketing employed 20 people, but things began to take a downturn around the financial crash in 2008.
Revealing "things came to a head in 2014", the barrister said this coincided with "personal pressure on his family".
The barrister also spoke of the unauthorised transactions from client accounts, saying Campbell intended refunds as he never wanted to "permanently deprive" them. He added Campbell accepts what he did was "completely wrong... and he is remorseful for what he has done".
Campbell's barrister concluded by revealing his client is now working in the car trade, and that his offending back in 2014 was more a case of trying to balance the books as opposed to "taking the money in order to live an extravagant lifestyle".