Sunday 20 May 2018

'My business, health and reputation were destroyed' - Mother-of-two on former friend who stole 'thousands' through fraud

Business owner Linda Newman
Business owner Linda Newman
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A business owner whose former employee stole thousands through forged and changed cheques has told how her company was on the verge of closing down after the "despicable" ordeal.

Mother-of-two Linda Newman said her "business, health and reputation were destroyed" after an employee, who was also her friend, forged cheques to the tune of almost €23,000.

The matter was heard before Castlebar Criminal Circuit Court last week and fraudster Lorna Mathastein, with an address at Michael Davitt Park, Westport, Co Mayo, received a one-year suspended sentence.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Ms Newman described how the incident took a horrific toll on her life and business, Western Homes and Holidays, which deals with holiday and long-term lettings.

“I lost 98pc of my business because people couldn’t get paid their money, they just left me. I also had a couple of people take me to court and I had judgements issued against me,” she said.

Due to the depleting money in her business account back in 2009-2010, her clients issued legal proceedings to receive money they were owed, which her then- employee had actually lodged to her own account.

"The loss my business experienced was hugely significant, and it really took its toll on my health,” she said.

“The first time I found out about it, I came home from work every day and I would be sitting at my table until midnight, going through all the cheques and cross-referencing them.

"It was a complete forensic study and it took the whole summer. I couldn’t afford a solicitor and didn’t qualify for legal aid, whereas my former employee was granted legal aid."

Judge Rory MacCabe described the theft as a “despicable and gross breach of trust”.

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive,” he told the court.

In her victim impact statement which she read to the court, Ms Newman described the negative impact it had on her life.

“I had to face Lorna Mathastein, keeping her in my employment as advised by the garda until the investigation was complete.

“It was nearly impossible and painful to work under these circumstances. I had to self-maintain all banking, posting, rent receipts and keep an eye on her work. My health started to decline dramatically due to the stress incurred, I had an inflammatory reaction in my body which resulted in several rounds of steroids from the doctor and also the need for additional therapy and treatments.”

The total sum defrauded was €22,297.

Ms Mathastein paid the full amount back by March 2016 - six years after she lodged the monies to her own account.

Her barrister said she used the money "to provide daily necessities and not for a lavish lifestyle".

In her victim impact statement, Ms Newman also claimed that monies intended for VAT payments had been diverted.

“This means there is still an outstanding debt to revenue which I am unable to pay. They apply regular pressure on me for payments while the interest keeps adding up,” she said.

She has now issued proceedings against the three banks, who cleared the cheques, for negligence.

Her business is now at break-even point and she said she has regained the trust of her clients.

"For the first time in a long time, I no longer have to work seven days a week to make ends meet.

"Thankfully, the banks seem to have tightened their security in the last few years. Unluckily for me, the incident happened in the height of the recession."

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