The HAYDON man used his “highly reliable position” to cause his company to lose nearly £700,000 in an act that nearly collapsed a business with more than £20 million in turnover.
Nicholas Gray, who was head of finance at digital marketing agency Equimedia, used company credit cards to make personal purchases, and defrauded his employer for 14 years out of more than £50,000.
His actions nearly brought the company out of business after HMRC threatened to issue a liquidation order.
Gray, of Mazurek Way, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison Thursday after admitting dishonestly abusing his position in a fraud described as “complicated with deliberate steps taken to cover his tracks.”
Swindon Crown Court heard that Andrew Burgess, founder and chief executive of the Gloucestershire-based company, stumbled upon the scam by accident in 2017 when he became aware of “some serious financial anomalies”.
In addition to the credit card, the company’s PayPal account showed he had withdrawn funds to his bank account, plaintiff Thomas Wilkins said.
The amounts that Gray took were relatively small, but important bills had not been paid and the company was teetering on the brink of going out of business.
“The customer did not collect some amount, and at some point in the middle of 2017, the cash collection almost stopped. Other than fraud, he was taking active steps to damage the financial position of the company.”
Mr Wilkins said Equimedia had lost an Age UK account based on his actions.
“It seems that what he did stole was being used for luxury items rather than any urgent need. During the interview, he tried to blame his employer,” continued Mr. Wilkins.
“There was a direct loss totaling £53,000. However, other losses were much higher than that.”
He said the total losses were estimated at £678,000.
Meanwhile, Burgess said in a police statement, read out in court, that Gray “is willing to bring down the entire company to cover up his fraud.”
“It was the complexity of his coverage that caused me more time and grief,” he added. “We continue to believe Mr. Gray stole more than we were able to identify.”
In his defense, Anthony Benall told the court that Gray, 42, was “absolutely convinced he was entitled to do what he was doing” when the case first reached court in February 2020, and only when the accountant clarified the situation did he realize he was wrong.
“It took him a long time for reality to sink in Gray but he did,” he said. He is now where he has spent four months since his remand.
“At that time, he made a lot of thought and wrote to me many times, saying how much he regretted the effect this had on his wife and children, and the devastation he had left behind.
“He sincerely regrets causing the Burgess family’s loss.”
However, Mr Bignall raised concerns that he had not been able to challenge the total loss figures, which only emerged after his client changed his guilty plea.
It was also heard how Gray had failed to turn himself in to the court over the initial date for sentencing, delaying the case for four months, because he was “burying his head in the sand” and not telling his family what he was facing.
“He was stupid for doing it,” said Mr. Bignall, “but his submission was not evil.”
Judge Jason Taylor QC, who delivered the ruling, said Gray was in a “highly reliable position” and had “the knowledge and means to commit and cover your tracks for fraud.”
You had a good salary and you had no reason to commit this fraud other than greed and desire to live a lifestyle that is beyond your means.
“The fraud appeared by chance. Had it not happened there could have been more serious consequences; the liquidation notice was on the cards at one point.”
Judge Taylor said he was not convinced he was deliberately trying to sabotage the company, but said he was happy to create a “completely misleading image with disrespect for those who put their trust in you, even if it leads to the company’s collapse”.
Gray was imprisoned for four years and nine months.