Fraudsters jailed for stealing £285,741

Two Scarborough women have been jailed for defrauding a vulnerable businesswoman out of over a quarter of a million pounds.

Elizabeth Johnson, 67, of West Square, and Machele (Shelly) Farrar, 60, of Manor Road, stole £285,741, partly to fuel Johnson’s online gambling addiction.

They were jailed at York crown court after each being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.

Johnson was jailed for four years and Farrar for three years and six months.

The victim, Fiona Rhodes, 54, died a short time after the investigation began. She was running a caravan site in Whitby with a turnover of around half a million pounds. She struggled to cope with the management and financial side of her business. In 2013, she was contacted out of the blue by Johnson, who offered to help reduce the business’s utility bills, which she did. She offered her services for free and helped around the caravan site.

Within two years, Johnson had introduced her friend Farrar, who offered to help with the payroll and accounting.

Neither had any formal qualifications in the work they were offering.

In 2015, the site manager noticed large sums of money were being taken from the business account, leaving insufficient funds to pay bills. He reported his concerns to Rhodes and her accountant.

Following an analysis of the bank accounts by the accountant, it became clear that a significant amount of money had been taken from the business account that was unaccounted for.

£256,000 had been transferred into Farrar’s bank account while Johnson banked cheques worth £65,951.

Although some of the money was used to pay staff wages and company bills, it was established that Farrar stole £51,548 and laundered £84,131; Johnson, who also uses the surname Hill, stole £150,062. The total comes to £285,741.

Both denied the allegations. Farrar claimed she only took what she was entitled to and had been guided by Johnson. Johnson claimed she took the money for services rendered, but admitted she sometimes took more than she was entitled to and gave herself extra in the form of a bonus.

Although both submitted extortionate invoices for their services that did not reflect the work carried out, a significant proportion of the money taken from the business remains unaccounted for.

The investigation was led by Detective Constable Mark Butcher, a financial investigator in North Yorkshire Police’s economic-crime unit. He said: “Farrar and Johnson preyed on a vulnerable victim in the late Fiona Rhodes, taking advantage of her inability to run her business without assistance. They betrayed her trust through dishonest and deliberate money transfers from the business to their bank accounts, to fund their lifestyles with the majority of the money being gambled away through Johnson’s online gambling addiction”.