A gambling addict who worked as a police administrative assistant was jailed for eight months after falsifying her joiner husband’s VAT returns to gain £70,000 from HMRC.
Wendy Gunn of Rearquhar, Dornoch is also set to lose her home after Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood approved a confiscation order for the money.
Inverness Sheriff Court was told that the 61-year-old’s property and one she inherited from her mother had been on the market for weeks but had not been sold.
At an earlier hearing, the court was told that Gunn submitted inflated and reduced input and output figures for her husband James’s joinery business over a four year period because “she couldn’t be bothered doing the books”.
She told tax inspectors that she “made up” the figures.
Gunn previously admitted being concerned in the fraudulent evasion of VAT to induce the HMRC to make repayments to which she was not entitled.
Defence solicitor Willie Young appealed to the Sheriff not to jail his client and instead impose unpaid hours.
He said: “Because of various events in her life, she became involved in gambling which did not improve her (financial) position.
“She has unresolved bereavement needs which resulted in her addiction and is genuinely contrite.”
But Sheriff Fleetwood told Gunn: “I have looked at this case backward, forwards and upside down to avoid doing this.
“I accept your contrition and that things got out of hand, but this persisted for four years and £70,000 of public money was lost.
“This was continuing and gross dishonesty and only a custodial sentence is appropriate.”
At a previous appearance, fiscal depute Michelle Molley told the court that Mr Gunn was registered for VAT as a sole proprietor trading as a joiner.
When Gunn retired in 2006, HMRC received from Mr Gunn written consent allowing his wife to deal with his tax affairs in relation to both VAT and self-assessment.
“Until 2010 income declared on VAT returns matched that on the self-assessment forms, but from 2010 they began to diverge.
“Investigators also noticed a reduction in declared turnover whilst declared output increased.
“In 2009, returns declared Mr Gunn’s turnover was £111,028 and his declared output was £128,629.
“But in 2011 his declared turnover was £64,193 whilst his output was £139,276. The obvious differences in the figures in the various forms resulted in an HMRC investigation.
Ms Molley went on: “When she was asked whether the figures in the VAT returns were correct or if they had been falsified for the purpose of obtaining VAT repayments, she confirmed that the figures were made up.
“Her explanation was that she could not be bothered doing the books and she was aware that the false figures she had entered would result in repayments to which her husband’s business was not entitled.”
Cheryl Burr, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Gunn was put in a position of trust and she used that power to steal £70,000 that should have gone to fund our public services. Instead, she submitted fraudulent VAT returns without her husband’s knowledge. This was for the sole intention of pocketing cash she wasn’t owed, to fund her lifestyle.
“HMRC will continue to pursue criminals who attack the tax system and we ask anyone with information about suspected VAT fraud to report it online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Liam Murphy, Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework, said: “Wendy Gunn took advantage of the VAT system to fraudulently claim public funds she was not entitled to. We welcome today’s sentence and the confiscation order which means she will now have to repay a significant amount of money she falsely claimed.
“In cases such as this, prosecution of a criminal offence does not mean the end of our involvement. We will use the laws available to us to ensure money obtained through crime is confiscated from those who do not deserve it and reinvested into the community.”