AN accountant fleeced investors and his employers of almost £540,000 to help meet his gambling addiction.

Lee Philip Hammond was today (Monday February 25) told to expect to be jailed when he returns to court to be sentenced next month.

Durham Crown Court heard that the 30-year-old fraudster effectively pocketed £54,600 donated by three investors to an accountancy business he was running, between October 2008 and January 2010.

He then stole £411,305.60 from Shildon and Sedgefield Development Agency, and after a merger, £73,437.50 from the newly-formed South Durham Enterprise Agency, in July 2010.

While those crimes were being investigated he was bailed.

Despite being under investigation, he took £1,957.91 and tried to steal a further £3,750 from Town and City Management Ltd, in both cases after creating false invoices.

Scott Smith, mitigating, said some of the money was made through the supposed sale of accountancy software packages which did not exist, all of which went on gambling.

Mr Smith said the defence team has had a psychologist’s report drawn up following consultation with Hammond, particularly looking into his gambling addiction.

“He’s of previous good character, and he made a full confession, effectively handing himself in.

“We have obtained details of his gambling addiction and I think the court, in considering sentence, would also be assisted by a pre-sentence report prepared by the Probation Service.

“Some of the fraud, certainly from the confusion beneath all this, appears to be from what is a very profitable little business.

“It involved shares in the company, a company which was, effectively, the defendant.

“Investors, effectively, got a share in the company but he stole from the company and he doesn’t seek to challenge that.”

Hammond, 30, of Beadnell Close, Darlington, today (Monday February 25) admitted five counts of fraud, three of theft and one of attempted theft.

Judge Christopher Prince adjourned sentence, pending preparation of the probation background report on Hammond.

Mr Smith said: “He’s been on bail and it’s unconditional. I would ask for that to be extended.

“He’s aware of the sentence that will follow.”

Addressing Hammond, Judge Prince said: “I’ll extend your bail until sentence.

“Go away and put your affairs in order before you come to court. You know when you return here you must expect to receive a custodial sentence.”

Judge Prince added that he would also like victim impact statements from all those who lost money at Hammond’s hands, ready for the day of sentence, on March 22.

More Crime News