Bank's anti-fraud boss jailed for stealing from customer accounts

A FORMER anti-fraud boss at the Yorkshire-based bank First Direct has been jailed for stealing from customers' accounts to fund his alcoholism and cocaine addiction.

In his 65,000-a-year job as head of fraud operations, Richard Crawford, 41, was trusted with the personal details of account holders whose finances were thought to be most at risk from criminals.

But, instead of protecting them from fraudsters, he plundered them by either transferring cash sums from them directly or using them to secure loans of thousands of pounds.

Leeds Crown Court heard that in eight months, Crawford transferred more than 173,000 into other accounts, although he only made about 110,000 from the scam as the bank successfully cancelled some transactions.

The money was paid into accounts opened by up to 10 "recruits" who, in return for small payments, agreed to withdraw the cash and return it to Crawford as soon as possible.

None of First Direct's customers lost money in the scam as all the losses were borne by the bank, which has headquarters in Leeds and is a division of HSBC.

Crawford, of Lulworth Crescent, Whitkirk, Leeds, pleaded guilty to fraud, possessing articles for use in fraud and conspiring to conceal, disguise, convert or transfer criminal property.

Jailing him for three years and eight months, The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC, said he had committed an "utmost abuse of trust".

The court heard Crawford had worked for First Direct for almost two decades and had been in its fraud department for 13 years, gaining promotions to his senior role. But he turned to crime in December 2008, as his marriage broke down. He began drinking heavily and came "under pressure" from cocaine suppliers after developing a drug habit he could not afford.

Crawford was sacked last summer. Police may seek to seize his ill-gotten gains at a confiscation hearing next year.

He was sentenced along with eight people who allowed him to transfer amounts into bank accounts they opened.

Kevin Tempest, 50, of Swarcliffe Avenue, Seacroft, Leeds, was jailed for two years after admitting three money laundering charges and conspiring to conceal, disguise, convert or transfer criminal property.

His daughter's partner, Gareth Sellers, 24, also of Swarcliffe Avenue, Seacroft, Leeds, and Aaron Kerr, 21, of West Parade, Hythe, Kent, were also sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to money laundering and conspiring to conceal, disguise, convert or transfer criminal property.

Five people admitted one money laundering charge and were given 32-week jail sentences, suspended for 18 months.

They were Nathan Wigglesworth, 21, of Rocheford Close, Hunslet, Leeds; Dean Hatton, 22, of Neath Gardens, Gipton, Leeds; Craig Eakins, 32, of Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone, Kent; Ryan Simpson, 21, of Middleton Park Road, Middleton, Leeds; and Jade Maher, 22, of Cinque Ports Avenue, Hythe, Kent.

A First Direct spokeswoman said: "We take the security of our customer's money very seriously and we have been working very closely with the police to bring about this successful prosecution.

"A team of senior investigators from the HSBC Group conducted a full enquiry into the background of this case, as well as checking individual customer account details.

"Furthermore, the HSBC Group has a fraud guarantee in place which states that none of its customers will ever lose money if they are an innocent victim of fraud.

"First Direct Customers can rest assured that their money has been, and will continue to be, totally safe and protected."