FRAUDSTER Graeme Gee stole £64,000 from his company as gambling addiction spiralled into a crime spree.
The 40-year-old was a semi-professional footballer whose full-time job was a bookkeeper for Landscape Holdings, in Horndean.
When the company received a tax penalty of £40,000 it came to light that Gee had been forging cheques for five years to fund his gambling habit.
At Portsmouth Crown Court his family and friends packed the public gallery as Gee entered the dock in a smart suit, carrying a rucksack and prepared to go to jail.
But, instead, he was handed an 18-month suspended sentence.
Defending Gee, Howard Barrington-Clark explained the 71 cheques were made out to fund a £1,000-a-month addiction to online roulette.
And the addiction began following a footballing groin injury sustained 20 years ago.
He said: ‘He had a perfectly ordinary childhood, education and was a very talented footballer. He left school a bright lad and found work at a chartered accountants and was also a semi-professional footballer.
‘At that age – 18,19,20 – he had quite a lot of money, £500 a month from the accountants and £500 from football. At that time he sustained a very serious injury.’
Mr Barrington-Clark said the injury led to depression.
He continued: ‘Because he had money in his pocket, because he wanted to rise from the bottom, because he wanted to be recognised, he started off playing cards on the coach on the way back from the matches. That’s where the gambling started.’
He said Gee became ‘completely addicted’ to gambling, particularly fixed odds betting terminals which are banned in some countries.
Mr Barrington-Clark added: ‘This was not a sophisticated fraud.
‘He wasn’t setting up accounts. He wrote the cheques out in his own hand. He was bound to be caught.’
The court heard Gee was now tackling his addiction and had been offered two jobs, including one at an accountancy firm.
Recorder Nigel Pascoe called the offer ‘ironic’.
He was given a bundle of character references and, after reading them, said Gee owed the authors a great debt.
He said: ‘What is noticeable is how many people have written on your behalf have referred to you as trusted, honest or trustworthy though you have shown yourself, over five years, to be totally untrustworthy and fundamentally dishonest.’
He sentenced Gee to 18 months imprisonment suspended for two years. He was ordered to undertake 250 hours of unpaid work. There were sobs of relief from the public gallery.
Recorder Pascoe said: ‘Some would say the course I have taken is really quite lenient. There it is.’
After the case Gee, of Sultan Road, Buckland, Portsmouth, told The News: ‘I would like to sincerely apologise to all parties that have been affected by my actions, especially the Paynter-Hart family and all the employees past and present of the Landscape Group.
‘I would now like to continue my recovery from my gambling addiction and wish to thank my fiancée, family and friends for their continued support throughout this sad chapter of my life.’
He said he was ‘genuinely remorseful’.
He added: ‘I fed an addiction basically.
‘I have researched it. It’s a pathological illness depending on which media you read.
‘It’s something that will be with me for the rest of my life.
‘It’s something I am addressing and have been addressing for some time.
‘The only way for me to survive is complete abstinence from gambling.
‘I just want to move on with my life now.’
‘HE KNEW IT WAS THE ONE PLACE WE WOULDN’T LOOK’
LANDSCAPE Holdings, which runs several printing companies, was reimbursed by Barclays which agreed it should have spotted the forged signatures earlier.
Nat Hart, the director of the firm, said, in effect, Gee had stolen from children because the cheques were taken from the account of the company’s not-for-profit set-up Eduprint.
Eduprint is run like a charity and is based in more than 100 education establishments across the country.
Students run it as a business, carrying out print work for parents, the school and local businesses.
Mr Hart, who runs Landscape Holdings with his son Richard, said: ‘Really he stole this money from children. We have given body and soul to Eduprint over the past 10 years. There are 120 centres, a lot of them schools for special needs children. We never ever wanted it to make a profit – we only ever wanted to cover costs – and Gee ensured it never did make a profit.
‘We only ever checked this account because there was so much to unravel – and that was where the money was taken from. We never looked anywhere else so the true figure may be much higher.
‘He knew the one place we would never look very closely at would be the corporate and social responsibility company. And that hurts because, in effect, he has stolen from a charity.’