A thieving lettings agent stole over £128,000 which should have gone to landlord clients - and with it she funded an affair with her personal trainer.
Joanne Barker ran the Rochdale-based Barton Kendall agency with her husband Paul and other directors.
The Daily Mail reports that from 2014 to 2018 Barker diverted money from the firm's client account into her own personal bank account. She used it, amongst other things, to make rental payments to a fictitious landlord and pay for a £3,640 central heating system at her marital home.
She also used the bank account of her lover to deposit £8,586 worth of stolen cash, and allowed him to live rent-free for six months in one of the properties the firm managed. Neither Paul Barker, the agency’s other directors, or Barker's lover were aware of any wrongdoing.
At a recent court case it was revealed that in 2018 a number of landlords began to complain they were not receiving rent payments unless they persisted with inquiries about overdue money.
Ian Tweedley, a director of the agency, is quoted as telling the court: “[My wife] Jo and I worked tirelessly to build up and maintain the business in really difficult times and we became one of the leading lettings agencies in the area with a longstanding reputation. I thought life was rosy, I thought we were financially secure albeit not rich, the mortgage was nearly paid off and I was gearing up to retire at 60.
“When we took on Joanne, she became a trusted family friend and I felt assured she would run the business in my absence. But all that came crashing down when I found out she was siphoning off clients' money from the business and stealing all the tenants deposits. That day was the worst of my life. I was in the office at 3am as I couldn't sleep and my heart sunk as I realised my business was in tatters.
“That same morning my sister rang me to say my nephew had been involved a in tragic accident and lost his life. I was numb, I hit rock bottom and we were truly at a horrendous point in our lives. What followed was two years of stress, panic and exhaustion to the point of nearly having a breakdown. I was determined to save the business but with such limited funds I was very concerned we might have to fold the company as I didn't see a way out.
“I realised this would have an impact on our staff who had been conned and our many landlords who have been our clients for many years. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. The thought of ending of my life did not occur to me but I was as low and desperate as I have ever been. [My wife] Jo and I ploughed all our savings into the business. I sold my beloved car to pay off the landlords and obtained a £50,000 business loan to pay off contractors. It was almost catastrophic.
“We lost some big landlords, over 50 managed properties, over £50,000 a year. Our insurance premiums went up from £1,600 a year to £20,000. Our standing as one of the leading estate agents in the town has dropped and our reputation has been severely tarnished.”
Joanne Barker pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation but insisted she had stolen only £28,868. However, forensic accountants said the total amount missing from the firm was £128,868.
Barker has been sentenced to two years jail suspended for two years after claiming she was now living off state benefits in a flat in Salford and was needed to care for her elderly mother.
You can see the full Mail story here.