A besotted legal worker who stole more than £500,000 from a Fylde law firm after falling victim to an online “romance scam” with a bogus American serviceman has been jailed for two years and eight months.
Infatuated Pamela Wareing, the former head cashier and the compliance officer for finance and administration at Blackpool law firm Easthams, stole the cash from a client account at Easthams on Church Street and transferred it into a bank in Dubai.
The 54-year-old, of Brompton Road, Poulton, believed she was sending the money to an American serviceman, calling himself Eric Lopez, who had promised to set up home with her and marry her, and made £526,473 in cash transactions over a 46-day period.
Police, who had been alerted by financial safeguards to the huge sums of money transferred to Dubai, had already visited her in October 2016 and tried to persuade her to stop sending cash to Dubai, but she refused to accept it and turned to stealing.
Her betrayed colleagues, Easthams directors John Bower and Debra Hepplestall, who replaced some of the stolen client funds from their own pocket, revealed their betrayal in victim impact statements read in court, describing how she started stealing while Mr Bower was in hospital fighting for his life after having cancer surgery.
The mother-of-one admitted theft from the Blackpool-based firm, where she had worked for more than 20 years, and was jailed by the Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown who said the fact police had warned her was a “watershed that takes the case into a different realm entirely”.
He said: “This was a planned, carefully executed, cunning and deceitful plan.
“During a period of six week you stole more than half a million pounds from your employer. That was the financial loss to them, but the actual loss was much more massive.
“You had worked for the firm for about 20 years and as the compliance officer you were in a senior and very trusted position. As well, you were a member of the senior management team.
“The background to the case is very unusual.
“He said he wanted to buy himself out of the army and join you in England but that was all a scam. He didn’t exist and whoever was behind the scam was out to get your money.
“It’s apparent from an early stage you were besotted by him. You were persuaded the situation was genuine.
“You must have been naive or stupid.
“You were told in very clear terms that the situation was a fraud and you were strongly advised to stop sending the money.
“The thefts began just after an audit of the firms accounts had taken place and occurred when another account manager was away on holiday. In my judgement all of that demonstrated the extent to which you were deceitful and cunning.
“But as well as that very significant financial loss you had been considered a good friend by many in the firm.
“You’d have appreciated the SRA would have intervened and that the future of the business and jobs in it was very much at stake.
“The firm was nearly brought to its knees.
“You were in the grip of romance scam victimisation.
“You may have been besotted but this was in no way an error of judgement. You acted in a selfish, devious and calculated way without caring about the impact of your offending on others.”