Fraudster’s ‘incredibly tangled web’ of deception cost employers £40k

An “inveterate liar” who carried out an “extravagant” fraudulent scheme, which cost his employer more than £40,000, has been jailed for 10 months.

Matthew Whiles, 48, conned his way into a job managing a Fetlar farm and then continued his deception to defraud his bosses over an 11 month period.

As well as charging various goods and services to his employers’ account, Whiles also duped them into paying for a Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, and Land Rover Defender.

Jailing Whiles for 10 months, Sheriff Ian Cruickshank said he had created an “incredibly tangled web” of deception.

Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie, who described Whiles as an “inveterate liar”, said the deception began in August 2017 when he pretended to be “Tommy Wells” on his CV.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday that Whiles – who was appearing from prison via video-link – claimed to be able to drive vehicles, including tractors, despite having been disqualified.

Had it not been for this false claim, Mr MacKenzie said Whiles would never have been offered the job.

Whiles also created a fake email address to provide “glowing references”, which helped secure him the position.

The accused was due to arrive to start work in Fetlar on 30th November, 2017, but failed to show, the court heard.

Soon after, he contacted his employers claiming his vehicle had been stolen along with his bank cards, leaving him unable to access his account.

Having no reason to doubt the accused’s claim, Mr MacKenzie said his employers paid for his travel to Fetlar on the understanding the money would be repaid from his £1,750 monthly wages.

Upon arrival, Whiles continued claiming he could not access his account. As a result, he was offered credit at his employers’ shop in Fetlar, as well as authorisation to use their account at a number of businesses throughout Shetland.

The accused used this to buy various goods and services including a mobile phone.

He also received regular cash advances  – all on the basis it would be deducted from his salary, the court heard.

Throughout this period, Whiles continued to claim he could not access his funds. But he also made “somewhat grandiose claims” about selling a Welsh farm for a “significant sum” and getting insurance money from his supposedly stolen vehicle.

Other than the day-to-day items, Mr MacKenzie told the court about a number of more significant purchases – three vehicles which he bought with the complainers’ money or by claiming to have been acting on their behalf.

It started when he was driving his employer’s Ford Ranger for work on the mainland when it caught fire and needed repair work.

Whiles persuaded his employer to buy a replacement vehicle to get him home, which he would then keep, repaying the money in a few days’ time when his “long awaited” funds would finally be available.

The court heard the complainers paid £7,145 for the replacement Ford Ranger, and never received the money back.

Soon after, Whiles wrote off the vehicle and received £7,045 in insurance.

Next, he convinced his employer to fork out £19,000 on a Nissan Navara, which he bought from a Shetland garage.

Again, the money was never received. The accused later sold the vehicle for £18,100.

Then, claiming to act on his employer’s behalf, he bought a Land Rover Defender for his partner, costing £16,500.

When his employer received the invoice for the Defender, Mr MacKenzie said they decided to pay it to “avoid embarrassment” with the garage.

Further invoices arrived, including £2,418 for accessories for the Nevara and £467 for new tyres for the Defender, all of which they paid.

Whiles later made false claims that he could provide his employers with items of farm machinery as well as livestock, which led them to spend more than £15,000 building facilities to store the equipment.

Although the accused had neither the equipment nor the livestock, the court heard he provided photos to “substantiate his lie”.

Mr MacKenzie said that by doing so, Whiles was “lying for the sake of lying”.

“This was not a lie to obtain money,” he said.

“It was simply to create a more grandiose impression of himself.”

The machines and livestock never arrived. And by this stage, Mr MacKenzie said the increasingly elaborate explanations had begun to arouse the complainers’ suspicion.

Recognising the game was up, Mr MacKenzie said Whiles did a “moonlight flit” and left Shetland.

The last items he took were a tent and camping equipment, which he used to sleep rough.

He was found in Orkney in November 2018 and interviewed by police.

Mr MacKenzie said the complainers estimated their loss at £41,965 – although the “quantifiable” amount that could be attributed to the fraud was around £20,000.

Defence agent Paul Barnett acknowledged his client had “quite a few” previous convictions, mainly for road traffic offences.

Mr Barnett said Whiles “very much regrets” committing the offences.

By pleading guilty, he said his client had saved “a considerable amount of court time” – as a trial would have involved 28 Crown witnesses and more than 2,000 pages of documentary evidence.

Asked whether Whiles could repay any of the money, Mr Barnett said his client had no savings and had spent the last three months in custody.

He said Whiles found it difficult to secure employment, given his criminal history.

Sheriff Cruickshank described the offences as an “extravagant and complicated fraudulent scheme”.

Quoting Walter Scott’s verse Marion, he said: “O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive.”

With no way of dealing with the matter by way of compensation, Sheriff Cruickshank said the only option was a custodial sentence.

The 10 month sentence has been backdated to 12th October when Whiles was first remanded in custody.


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