Aberdeen admin assistant jailed over £1.5m fraud

A grandmother who stole £1.5m from a family scrap metal business in Aberdeen by faking invoices has been jailed

Muirhead was sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh after she pled guilty to a charge of embezzlement over the theft of £1,524,192.

Coleen Muirhead worked as an administrative assistant in the finance department at scrap metal business, Panda Rosa Metals, and used the money stolen from the company to finance a lifestyle that included expensive family holidays, the purchase of new cars, two static caravans valued at £78,000 and high-end auction items.

Muirhead, of Aberdeen, also paid for full tables at charity events as well as buying alcohol for all those who attended.

But her illicit scheme was uncovered when she boasted of her lifestyle to a work colleague who was responsible for paying out company wages.

The colleague became suspicious that Muirhead, who had worked for the company since 2014, was living beyond her means.

Meanwhile, a separate review of company finances was carried out amid concerns over a drop in funds.

During that review, it was discovered that Muirhead had been paying invoices to a fake customer known as ‘G Anderson’ and depositing the money into her own bank account.

The review also uncovered five company accounts which contained her bank details.

Prosecutors told the court how Muirhead was responsible for dealing with invoices for allotted clients.

During the review of company books, historical files revealed ‘G Anderson’ as a significant customer, but senior company officials had never heard of the client.

They then checked the financial details of ‘G Anderson’ against the Muirhead’s bank details and found the sort code and account numbers matched and subsequently informed the police.

Officers carried out a search of Muirhead’s home on 9 October 2021 and found documents that linked her to lavish spending.

On the same day, she sent a WhatsApp message to a colleague in which she said: ‘I have done Panda Rosa out of a lot of money. I was G Anderson. Police have just raided! Please don’t think the worst of me.’

At the trial, defence solicitor advocate Kris Gilmartin said: ‘This offending behaviour started off as a small matter and escalated quickly.

‘She is remorseful and she regrets the offending. She acknowledges she has brought shame to her family.’

Moira Orr, who leads on homicide and major crime for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: ‘Fraud and embezzlement are not victimless crimes. This was a blatant example of someone targeting a business and then carrying out a significant embezzlement.

‘Coleen Muirhead showed no regard for the impact her crimes would have on her employers.

‘Financial crime cases can be complex, but the evidence presented by prosecutors made the criminal activity clear and resulted in a conviction. 

‘This case demonstrates the ability of COPFS to effectively prepare and prosecute crime of this nature and sends a strong message to others involved in this kind of criminal behaviour. 

‘COPFS is committed to working with criminal justice partners to combat financial crime.’ 

Muirhead will now be the subject of a confiscation order under proceeds of crime legislation with a hearing scheduled for January.

Sara White |Editor, Accountancy Daily

Sara White is editor of Accountancy Daily...

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