A MAN who embezzled almost £15,000 of public money to pay for personal debts was warned he faced a custodial sentence when he appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court this week.
Steven Leask, 32, of North End, Uphouse, Aith, admitted syphoning off £14,778 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise between 14th February and 2nd May last year when he worked at the Lerwick office as an area operations manager.
The court heard Leask was responsible for the inspection and authorisation of business plans and grant claims submitted to the enterprise company by both individuals and businesses.
Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said Leask carried out his actions purely to acquire money.
“The mechanism that allowed him to achieve that was the creation by him of false claimants.”
He said Leask authorised the payments, which ended up in his own bank account.
“This came to light after a number of people in the organisation raised concerns with management about his practices.”
A full audit was then carried out, which revealed exactly what Leask had been doing.
Interviewed by police, Leask admitted he had no authority to make the payments. But Mr Mackenzie said Leask had seemed to be in a state of denial about his culpability.
He added that none of the money taken had been repaid.
Defence agent Tommy Allan said one false claimant was set up, to which two payments were made.
He said Leask had set up the payments to cover personal debts that he had at the time.
But Sheriff Graeme Napier wondered why Leask had not repaid any of the money, particularly as he carried out the offence in the first half of last year.
He told Mr Allan: “He’s effectively defrauded you and I and everybody else in this room of £15,000, and he’s not in a position to repay it.”
Mr Allan said Leask was “actively seeking” other employment, was “exploring ways of repaying the money” and was coming to terms with what he had done.
Sheriff Napier deferred sentence until 8th October for reports.
Granting Leask his liberty in the meantime, he said: “I treat this as a serious matter, since despite knowing about this for more than a year you have made no repayments of the money you embezzled. Do not be surprised if you are given a custodial sentence.”
A spokesman for HIE said: “HIE quickly identified inconsistencies in its accounts and reported the matter to the police which led to Mr Leask’s conviction. Following Mr Leask’s guilty plea, HIE will seek to recover the sum misappropriated by him.”