A Southam woman stole more than £100,000 from the estate agents where she worked – while she was subject to a suspended sentence for stealing from a previous employer.
And Rachel Cefai even had the nerve to claim sick leave from her new bosses to cover the time she was actually carrying out unpaid work as part of her suspended sentence.
But her deception came crashing down at Warwick Crown Court when Cefai, 37, of Mill Crescent, Southam, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.
She had pleaded guilty to theft, two charges of fraud and being in breach of the suspended sentence.
Prosecutor Marion Smullen said that Cefai began working for Dunsmore Estates, an estate agent and letting agent based in Clifton Road, Rugby, in 2010.
She was promoted fairly rapidly, and gained a position of considerable responsibility - but in 2016 it came to light that there had been misuse of the company’s credit card.
It later emerged that, in addition, large sums of money paid by tenants had been paid into Cefai’s own account.
Miss Smullen said Cefai obtained £105,582 by diverting money into her own account, and £2,763 by using the card.
“It was obviously a reasonably sophisticated method of diverting the money, because she falsified various documents so it didn’t show the tenants as owing money,” said Miss Smullen.
Although she used the credit card for her own purposes, Cefai put in receipts which seemed to show its use had been for company purchases.
And when one of her bosses bought a pub, she took the key, let herself in and stole furniture worth £900.
When she was challenged about the missing money, Cefai made full admissions – and has since repaid all of it.
The court heard that in June 2015 Cefai had been given an eight-month suspended sentence, with unpaid work, for stealing from a former employer.
Delroy Henry, defending, said: “The theme of my mitigation is mercy. That is what I ask Your Honour to exercise in this case. It may only be by a hair’s breadth, but there are compelling reasons why Your Honour can do that.
“First, her early guilty plea. Before even an internal investigation and a police investigation, she was frank and candid. She made a clear acknowledgement of her guilt which went beyond what was suspected at the time.
“The difficulty with this case is that there were live proceedings at the time this dishonesty took place,” he conceded.
Mr Henry pointed out that Cefai had completed the unpaid work ‘in record time.’
But, observing that Cefai was supposedly off work ill on the days she was doing it, Judge Peter Cooke commented: “That’s easy if you’re being paid, if you’re fraudulently being paid while you’re doing the work.”
Urging the judge to pass another suspended sentence, Mr Henry said although she had previously been ordered to do unpaid work, there had been ‘no intervention of a rehabilitative nature.’
He added that Cefai had ‘put her money where her mouth is’ and sold her own home to repay the money, and has now become a mother, which had had ‘a significant impact on her.’
But jailing Cefai, Judge Cooke told her: “You are a 37-year-old woman whose dishonesty seems to know no bounds.
“From September 2009 until September 2010 you were conducting yourself dishonestly towards your then-employer, but it didn’t come to light for a while.
“In the middle of the offences I am dealing with you for, you received a suspended sentence with unpaid work, which you completed, assisted by the fact you were being paid by the victim of this offence while taking days off to carry out the work.
“In this case you diverted money paid by tenants, you abused the company’s credit card, and when your boss bought a pub, you helped yourself to the keys and helped yourself to £900 worth of property from there.
“You were told when the suspended sentence was imposed that if there was further offending, immediate custody would follow - but you went straight back to work and carried on stealing.”