STEF HALL on the background of a ‘romance’ that went tragically wrong for one woman and almost brought a business to its knees
A besotted legal worker who stole more than £500,000 from a Blackpool 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 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 called 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 Easthams, 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 weeks 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.”
‘She was selfish and duped by an internet fraudster’
Det Con Mark Riley, of Lancashire Police, said: “This has been a complex and at times challenging investigation which highlights the impact online fraud can have on not just one but two victims.
“Pamela Wareing, a woman who had worked for employer for more than 20 years, was duped by an internet fraudster into sending vast sums of money to a man she would never meet.
“She was taken in by their lies, first transferring small sums of her own money and then spending her own savings. She took out loans and used money on her credit card incurring significant debt before accessing accounts to send larger sums abroad.
“Wareing became convinced she would meet with ‘Lopez’ but it was clear this individual had no intention of doing so. I have no doubt Lopez is a fictitious person, a name made up by the whole team behind this elaborate scam.
“Wareing used her own money to fund the fraud, but once this had stopped she turned to her employers. She was selfish and did not think about the impact of her theft.
“Easthams trusted Wareing and she was held in high regard, but her thoughtless actions were to leave the company in a potentially perilous financial position close to Christmas.
“I have spoken with John Bower and Debra Hepplestall, who are the senior partners at Easthams. They are still concerned about the impact Wareing’s actions may have. I can state that there is no blame associated with the firm. This investigation demonstrates the dangers of online dating and the potential there is to become a victim of fraud.
“Many people use online dating sites as a way to meet people and form relationships.
“Most users of these sites are sincere and honest in the information they provide and in their reasons for joining. However, there are exceptions, as proven in this case, and you need to be aware of how to keep yourself, your bank account and savings protected.”
‘Our staff even offered to pay back their bonuses’
Director John Bower, 59, from Blackpool, joined the firm 11 years ago.
He said: “We had to pay a significant amount from our own pockets, we both took a hit.
“I was planning to retire with what’s happened with my health, but I’m not sure now if that’s possible.
“At the time she was stealing I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.
“We couldn’t believe it.
“On a personal level I almost feel sorry for Pam but I go back to thinking she was warned four times by police before she stole from us.
“She was a victim but the money she took a penny from us us, we became victims, along with our clients and staff.
“We are pleased that within 24 hours of the thefts being discovered the funds were fully recompensed and the SRA have exonerated us.
“I want to thank our staff for their support.
“They even offered to pay back their Christmas bonuses.
“Her brother in law apologised to us on behalf of the family after the sentencing.”