AN ACCOUNTANT who stole more than £300,000 from tax payers to fund a gambling habit has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.
Conway Warner was working as an accountancy officer for Gosport Borough Council when he carried out 17 fraudulent transactions which netted him a total of £307,810.15 over a nine-month period.
The fraud was not discovered until shortly after the 35-year-old took voluntary redundancy in June 2011.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard how Warner, of Merganser Close in Gosport, had worked for the council since 2002, and turned to online gambling initially as a means of making money to pay for his upcoming wedding.
But as losses mounted he started needing extra funds to feed his addiction.
It was discovered that Warner had added his own bank account details to six council suppliers’ files and transferred money to himself.
It started off with £2,290 in September 2010, but soon escalated – the final transactions were for £44,000 and £55,000.
Warner stole a colleague’s ID and used it to make it look as if the changes had been made by her. However, further investigation revealed that she was not in the office at the time of the changes, and the bank account was traced to Warner.
Warner had pleaded guilty to one count of fraud at an earlier hearing.
Daniel Reilly, defending, described the addiction as ‘out of control’, and that Warner, who has since split from his former partner, had been attending meetings of Gambling Anonymous.
Mr Reilly said: ‘He’s sorry for what he’s done and sorry for those he’s let down.’
Judge Ian Pearson said: ‘This was a long-term and fairly sophisticated fraud, it was a significant and gross breach of trust. Your job meant a high degree of trust was invested in you by your employers and you abused that.
‘What makes it worse is that you attempted to blame another colleague by using her details.
‘Gosport Borough Council is not a particularly large or rich authority and much of its area could be described as deprived.
‘This will have a significant effect on public confidence in local authorities.’
None of the money has been repaid and a confiscation hearing is due to be held in July.
Gosport Borough Council’s leader, Cllr Mark Hook, said there was no loss to the public purse as the money was covered by insurance. But he added: ‘I hope this acts as a deterrent to anyone else in local authority public finance. We have put safeguards in place to ensure this never happens again.’