TOP-END downlight manufacturer The Light Corporation has survived a £2 million fraud which has ended with the jailing of its financial controller.
The company, a well-known supplier of LED luminaires to the residential, hospitality and yacht markets, faced a ‘relentless day to day battle’ to stay trading despite the theft of £2,011,983.36 by secret gambling addict Joyce Baker.
The trusted manager was jailed this week for five years and 10 months.
Baker, 61, was appointed as financial controller at the company, which supplied the lighting for Roman Abramovich’s super yacht the Eclipse.
Within six weeks of starting, she began stealing significant sums of money from her bosses on a regular basis, a judge heard.
She used the money to fund online gambling, visits to casinos - where she was given the VIP treatment - holidays abroad and cruises, where she could live the life of a high roller.
As the steady drain of money began to be felt at The Light Corporation in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, mystified bosses were faced with the task of making loyal staff redundant.
And it was Glasgow-born Baker who, in her management role, decided who was to be let go.
But her double life of lies and deceit was laid bare when she appeared in court to be sentenced after pleading guilty the fraud.
She also admitted being in contempt of court for not revealing assets she had hidden.
Baker, of Briery Way, Hemel Hempstead, also broke a court restraining order by cashing in a pension plan worth £26,000 which she put into a concealed bank account. There was only 50p left in it after she transferred some to a sister and spent the rest on gambling, a holiday and household expenses.
She pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position, that between the 1st day of November 2012 and the 31st June 2018 she dishonestly and thereby intending to make a gain for herself, abused her position as Financial Controller of The Light Company (TLC), in which she was expected to safeguard and not to harm the financial interests of TLC, by paying herself £2,011,983.36 from the company bank accounts into her own bank account without the authority of the company.
In addition, she admitted eight breaches of the restraining order.
Jailing her at St Albans Crown Court, Judge Stephen Warner told Baker: ‘This was systematic and planned dishonesty on a vast scale committed over many years in breach of a high degree of trust.
‘I accept it was to feed the scourge of a gambling addiction. It explains your conduct, but cannot justify it.’
Prosecutor Walton Hornsby said she siphoned money into her accounts by authorising payments to an unknown supplier.
It left the company in financial chaos. The number of staff was reduced from 70 to 36 with 9 compulsory redundancies - some of whom had been suggested by Baker.
When asked by gambling firms to prove proof of her income, she forged the owner David Caddick's signature on paperwork that stated she earned £750 a day at the firm as a consultant.
During police interviews, she confessed she could lose up to £4,000 a night gambling.
Outside court the firm’s owner David Caddick said: ‘She was manipulative, machiavellian and malicious. She hoodwinked us all from the start.
'But, despite her actions, we have got through it and I can’t thank my staff and colleagues enough for the way they responded when it came out what she’d done to us all.
‘As a result of what she did to us, it’s made us stronger as a company and we are more optimistic and successful than we have ever been.’
Where all the money went is still unknown. Baker has refused to tell David or the police if there is any left and where it is.
It’s known that, as well as gambling with the money she stole, she funded family weddings and put money into relatives' businesses.
‘All this was our money and she still obstinately refuses to tell us where any of it is or give any of it up in the hope that she will benefit from her heinous crimes on her release from prison,’ he said.
Baker made friends easily with the staff and could come across as pleasant and even ‘mumsy’, bringing in home-made cakes for break times.
But within six weeks of joining the firm which, at its height, employed around 70 people, Baker began stealing money and the first sum to make its way into her account was £5,000.
Baker, who was on £45,000 a year, was responsible for making regular payments to The Light Corporation’s suppliers in the form of BACS payments.
She would authorise ‘batches’ of payments to suppliers and, hidden amongst the bank details for the different companies, Baker had included her own bank account.
Then, with her knowledge of the company’s payments system, she used her position to cover her tracks by falsifying, erasing and destroying company records and wiping her computer.
For six years Baker used the method to systematically plunder the finances of The Light Corporation to the tune of £2,011,983.36.
Caddick said: 'Every day Baker came to work it was with the full and premeditated intention of destroying my business.’
Back in 2012 the company was doing well, with many lucrative orders, but David admitted the ‘maverick design environment and culture’ that had been nurtured there had created a ‘buzzy but confused and chaotic; atmosphere.
He now recognises that the creative and chaotic structure of the business was ripe for Baker to exploit, knowing that any awkward enquiries about payments could be easily fobbed off.
As time went on, David and his partner Tim found themselves perplexed at the state of the company's finances.
Caddick said: ‘We were growing the business, cash was coming in and we were doing seven to eight millions pounds of business a year. We were paying our suppliers and the order books were bulging, but where was the money?
‘We certainly didn’t think our Financial Controller was stealing from us.’
The company struggled on, but were unable to pay wage rises to the staff or annual bonuses. Regular staff Christmas parties had to be cancelled, along with summer barbecues and other social events.
Both David and Tim put substantial amounts of their own money into the business initially to help to prop it up, all of which was stolen by Baker. He said there was a real threat the company could go under.
Towards the end of 2017, Louise Baldock, who is a shareholder at The Light Corporation, was brought in to look more closely at the financial situation the company was in and began asking Baker more probing, searching, financial questions.
As a result of the sudden scrutiny she found herself under, Baker left the company in early 2018.
Caddick still had no idea she had taken more than two million pounds from his company.
It was the arrival of new financial controller, Tarun Kanini who finally unearthed what she had been up to and the police were brought in last summer.
Caddick said: ‘To cap it all, when Baker left our employ, she brazenly began proceedings for unfair dismissal against us claiming £30,000 as compensation and offering to drop the case for a quick settlement.’
Caddick said he later discovered that before Baker resigned, she had been briefing against his company.
‘She was doing it internally and externally with the sole intention of forcing the business down onto its knees and into liquidation. She did this so that her crime of stealing the £2.1 million that we know of would go undiscovered and she could move onto the next victim.
‘She was talking in this manner to suppliers and customers alike.
‘The fact is she hid it all in plain sight behind her apparent feigned incompetence and niceness.
‘She has shown no remorse for what she did and she hasn’t contacted me or offered to return any of the money she stole. It condemns her as the malevolent individual she is.
‘I believe she sees any jail sentence as one worth taking so that she can emerge to make use of her ill-gotten gains.;
Caddick said that, as a result of Baker’s crimes, around 30 of her colleagues were made redundant or let go in a bid by the firm to save money on overheads.
‘Some of these people she selected herself when she was still stealing significant sums of money from us. She actively participated in the procedure by being present when many of the employees were told of their fate.
‘These are people who, in some cases, thought she was a friend.’
He said many people had been affected by her dishonestly.
‘Joyce Baker is a seasoned, consummate and contemptible confidence trickster and a liar. She stabbed people in the back who thought she was a friend. She threatened their livelihoods and their ability to put food on the table for their families.’
He has nothing but praise for his wife Gail and family, Louise, all his colleagues and staff who helped the company survive, as well as the countless suppliers and customers who stuck with The Light Corporation offering their loyalty, goodwill and support throughout what was a difficult time.
For a while he said it was a ‘relentless day to day battle’ to keep the company trading ‘But we’ve come out of it undefeated, unbowed, unbeaten and undiminished,’ he said.
Defending, Nathalie Carter said: ‘She had gambling problem that started slowly. Initially it as bingo then slot machines at bingo, then slot machines at casinos and then online gambling. It is a dreadful shameful waste. She did not live a lavish lifestyle.
In an email to her solicitor she wrote: ‘I will for every be remorseful that the people I took from were family and friends.’
A restraining order has been placed on the matrimonial home of Baker which is the only significant asset and which prevents it from being sold by her.
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Pics: South Bedfordshire News Agency