AN accountant at a national care home firm stole £184,000 from dead residents’ bank accounts after he developed a cocaine addiction to deal with the stress of the credit crunch, a court has heard.
Steven Mason, 37, was trusted enough by Four Seasons Health Care, which has 500 homes across the UK, to be involved in developing its fraud policy.
But the married father-of-one used his expertise to siphon off cash from the balances of residents who had died and whose next of kin were unknown, in what Teesside Crown Court heard was an “intricate fraud”.
The senior internal audit manager, from Seaview, Easington, County Durham, was jailed for two years by Judge Howard Crowson, having previously admitted a single count of fraud.
Christopher Knox, defending, said the accountant’s “spectacular” fall from grace was caused by cocaine.
“This man was successful, he was in a good position and he was promoted relatively rapidly,” Mr Knox said.
“He was promoted and found himself in a particularly stressful situation.
“You know the nature of the business he was employed in.
“These businesses found themselves in very considerable difficulty when the credit crunch started.”
Mr Knox said Mason felt his job was under threat and succumbed to cocaine.
The judge said that may explain his offending, but in some ways the use of a Class A drug made it worse.
Burglars did not get credit for having a drug addiction, the judge said.
“Neither can I give Mr Mason such credit for setting up a quite intricate fraud to fund his cocaine habit,” he added.
Mr Knox said Mason’s wife, Natasha, a health professional, had helped him battle his cocaine addiction and was standing by him.
Sue Jacobs, prosecuting, said Mason sent emails to Four Seasons area managers telling them to send the balance of dead residents’ cash accounts to his office in Darlington if their next of kin were not known.
Mason then paid those cheques into two accounts - one legitimately opened and operated by a relative, the other named Fore Seasons Limited which was opened by a friend, the court heard.
He paid £183,785 into the two accounts, using some of it to buy a car and pay off debts, and withdrawing large sums of up to £20,000 at a time in cash.
He resigned from Four Seasons in April last year and was arrested in September.
Although the private firm is a large company, operating homes in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Jersey, the fraud had a big impact because the losses must be reinstated, Miss Jacobs said.
A Proceeds of Crime hearing will take place at a later date.