Treasurer defrauded preschool up to £ 44,000 by leaving account with ONLY 58p, court finds

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A treasurer has robbed a preschool charity worth up to £ 44,000 in a long-running scam dubbed a “complete nightmare” and “terrible and damaging ordeal”, a court has heard.

The mother of two, Gemma Waterhouse, left the administrators and staff of Leven Pre-school, Beverley, feeling “very angry, betrayed and cheated” and the fraud had seriously damaged her reputation.

She left a preschool-owned bank deposit account with just 58 pence, but covered the losses and even forged the principal’s signature, Hull Crown Court has learned.

Waterhouse, 39, of Bewholme, near Hornsea, admitted to defrauding by transferring money from a charity bank account between January 2012 and January 2019.

She also admitted to falsifying year-end financial reports and bank statements.

The case was adjourned as Waterhouse lawyers disputed the £ 44,000 figure put forward by prosecutors and said the actual figure from the accounts was closer to £ 28,000.

The judge warned the 39-year-old that she should prepare for the “very real risk that [she] could be locked up ”when the case returned to court for sentencing.

Stephen Welch, prosecuting, said Waterhouse was on the Leven Preschool committee and worked as a volunteer treasurer.

Preschool treasurer and mother of two Gemma Waterhouse (pictured) faces jail time after admitting defrauding a preschool charity of up to £ 44,000, Hull Crown Court has said

A letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was received in January 2019 indicating a debt of £ 16,235 for non-payment of pay as you earn and National Insurance staff since April 2012.

This came as a surprise to manager Dawn Whiting, as the payslips showed payments and deductions had been made.

She saw Waterhouse in a garden center and the treasurer said, “It’s a complete mess.”

Ms Whiting said: ‘I know this is a complete mess. Can you tell me what happened?’

Waterhouse replied: ‘Everything. This. My life. At home. All.’

Mr Welch told the court: “She said she struggled for years, didn’t know how to handle things, didn’t know how to ask for help and things were wrong. Getting worst.”

The fraud had been going on for more than five years. She joined the committee in September 2011.

Waterhouse said of the breach of trust: “I know and it makes me feel worse. I have to correct it. I want to try to fix it but I need some time. Everything is gone. Nothing is left.’

Staff at Leven Kindergarten (pictured) near Hull described the fallout from the Waterhouse offense as 'a complete nightmare' and 'terrible ordeal' as they say they struggled to stay open

Staff at Leven Kindergarten (pictured) near Hull described the fallout from the Waterhouse offense as ‘a complete nightmare’ and ‘terrible ordeal’ as they say they struggled to stay open

A total of £ 89,743 had been paid into accounts belonging to Waterhouse or her husband’s business.

A total of £ 51,869 was returned. The sum of £ 9,808 was found to have been legitimate payments to Waterhouse’s husband for work done at the school.

The prosecution claimed the actual total loss was £ 44,067.

“The accused went to great lengths to cover up her wrongdoing,” Welch said.

This included changing addresses on correspondence from kindergarten to her home without the knowledge of other administrators or staff.

She changed the committee meeting minutes on the kindergarten bank account to require only one signature and also forged Dawn Whiting’s signature.

Rachel Scott, attenuating, said Waterhouse had no previous convictions.

She had two children, ages 12 and 11, and worked making custom gifts to sell online.

Waterhouse (pictured), who has been released on bail until sentencing, has been warned that she should prepare for the 'very real risk' that she could be jailed for the offenses she admitted to the Hull Crown Short

Waterhouse (pictured), who has been released on bail until sentencing, has been warned that she should prepare for the ‘very real risk’ that she could be jailed for the offenses she admitted to the Hull Crown Short

Waterhouse regretted his actions as it affected public confidence in a charity.

“She has a lot of remorse for the fact that she has shaken that confidence,” said Miss Scott, adding: “It started with a little borrowing to pay her bills.”

Waterhouse was not working at the time and intended to repay the money.

She felt that she could not tell her husband about it and “dug a hole” by taking money from the charity, but could not return it.

The fake bookkeeping meant there was only 58p left in the deposit account, but Waterhouse covered this up.

Waterhouse was adamant that the total loss to the preschool was £ 28,139 – not the net charge figure of £ 44,067.

Judge David Tremberg said: “There is a dispute over the amount of the net loss.”

The court needed a clear figure before Waterhouse could be convicted and the case was adjourned for further investigation, possibly including an accountant.

The case has been adjourned until January so that lawyers can investigate the actual sum that was taken

The case has been adjourned until January so that lawyers can investigate the actual sum that was taken

Judge Tremberg told Waterhouse: “It is unfortunate that we are in this situation but, that said, there seems at least to be an important light of day between what the prosecution says you did and what you did. admit you did and it’s the light of day that needs to be sorted out before the court hand down the sentence.

“You have to be prepared for the very real risk of finding yourself locked up when this ends in conviction. “

The case was adjourned until January and Waterhouse was released on bail.

After the hearing, the five people in court related to the kindergarten declined to comment at this point, but confirmed that it was still functioning.

Leven Pre-School welcomes children aged two to five from Leven and the surrounding area.

Principal Dawn Whiting said: “For the charity as a whole, when this was first revealed, there was real fear that the preschool would have to close.

“Although we tried to keep the investigation in-house, in a small village, it was very difficult.

“Some children who had made initial contact to bring their children to Leven Pre-School chose to go elsewhere and we feared it would escalate. It was a very stressful time for everyone and it continues.

“When this theft came to light, the committee had no choice but to cancel one of our biggest annual fundraisers, which still has an impact on our current funds.

“Personally and, I know, other staff and committee members feel very disappointed and angry with the actions of Gemma Waterhouse.

“She was involved in many kindergarten activities and fundraising events and had become a good friend and confidante, whom I and the staff turned to both professionally and personally for advice. .

“It was only thanks to the dedicated staff, collaboration and support of the current committee that we got through this terrible and damaging ordeal.

“The past 21 months have been a complete nightmare not only for me but for many people involved in preschool, who feel very angry, betrayed and cheated.”

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