Moray gift shop owner avoids prison for £285k VAT fraud

Carla Jayde Ross leaving Elgin Sheriff Court following her conviction.
Carla Jayde Ross leaving Elgin Sheriff Court following her conviction.

A Moray gift shop owner who fraudulently claimed £285,000 in VAT repayments to prop up her business has been spared jailed.

Carla Ross stole the cash over eight years by submitting false claims to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

At the time of the offences, between April 2008 and July 2016, Ross was working as a consultant to oil companies in Aberdeen.

Her three personal services companies GR Controls Ltd, Compliance Strategies Ltd and JRoss Services Ltd, were registered for VAT, but the returns she submitted showed supressed invoice amounts and exaggerated purchases made to fraudulently claim repayments.

HMRC officers found that for more than four years, she also provided VAT returns for companies that had been dissolved.

Elgin Sheriff Court heard yesterday that the majority of the money stolen was diverted into the company bank account for her Aberlour business A Gift From Scotland.

Fiscal depute Kevin Corrins told the court she was caught out after a local compliance officer became suspicious about her high level of VAT claims.

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He said: “Although each repayment was not large, £170,000 was repaid to bank accounts run by Carla Ross and her husband Gordon.

“During the investigation, it was discovered that the IP addresses used to submit the VAT returns were all rented by her and operated by Gifts from Scotland and Aye Candy Ltd.

“Large amounts of business expenses were claimed, most if not all were false and invoices were sent issued for expenses that had not occurred.

“All the money was then funneled through Gifts From Scotland Limited.”

Advocate Grant Markie said Ross’s fraudulent bookmaking was a result of her “controlling” husband and complete negligence on her part.

He said: “The relationship between Ross and her husband was emotionally abusive and controlling, and although she had certain qualifications to run these types of businesses, she was pressurised to commence other ventures.

“Essentially she was solely responsible for operating a group of companies and the tasks were too much for one individual and when she sought permission from her husband to employ an accountant to help, he refused.

“What originally began as negligence and the pressure of her numerous businesses leading her to submit inaccurate VAT figures persisted and over time became criminal.

“The money was used to support her businesses that were in distress and she did not use it to fund any sort of lifestyle.”

During the hearing, it emerged Ross has recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has severe mobility difficulties.

Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov took this into account and decided against a custodial sentence, instead imposing an 18-month supervision order and 12-month curfew.

Ross, of Cuilmuir Terrace, Kilsyth, admitted being concerned in fraudulently evading VAT amounting to £285,000.

Last night, Cheryl Burr, assistant director of the fraud investigation service for the HMRC, said: “Ross stole money needed to fund our vital public services, an amount equivalent to 10 newly trained police constables in Scotland. Instead, she invested the cash into a failing company and used it to support her lifestyle.

“HMRC will pursue criminals who attack the tax system and we ask anyone with information about suspected tax fraud to report it to HMRC online, or call our fraud hotline on 0800 788 887.”