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Husband acquitted of money laundering despite clearly taking benefits

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

In 1998, a man in England was convicted of money laundering after stealing Mars Bars and selling them to fund his purchase of a house for his girlfriend and a SAAB convertible. She was acquitted on charges of money laundering. Last week, an English court came to the same decision about the husband of a thief.

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Debbie Poole, 63, was the bursar of Hinchley Wood Primary School in Esher, Surrey. Over a period of some nine years she extracted some GBP490,000 from an account created to fund out-of-school activities such as breakfast and after-school clubs funded from donations and event such as raffles and cake sales run by the Parents-Teachers' Association. Her scheme was simple: she forged the headmistress' signature on cheques.

Last week, she was convicted of four charges of fraud.

Suspicions were aroused by Poole's cars. Seemingly jealousy was the reason she was noticed. Media reports say that she would park her cars next to the "old banger" driven by
Fiona Collins, the head teacher. But police reports say that the cars included a Ford Cougar that's worth, online research shows, somewhere between GBP1,000 and GBP4,000.

Poole and her husband, Gary, 67, went on expensive holidays, for example, ten days in a Greek resort at Ikos Olivia in Thessaloniki. The Court was told that they stayed in a deluxe suite with private pool in August 2018 at a cost of GBP13,000.

They gave money to their two children: some GBP70,000 was divided. GBP37,000 was paid into the account of the boyfriend of one of the daughters and that was used as the deposit on a house.

Gary Poole, her 67 year-old husband was acquitted on a single charge of acquiring criminal property.

Local media reported this from a parent at the school: “While the school was suffering Debbie seemed to be thriving. She would arrive at work in a nice car which she was constantly changing and upgrading. At one stage she had a sporty white Ford Cougar then towards the end she had her Peugeot SUV. She would park it up near the head teacher’s old Ford Fiesta.”

From a money laundering risk and compliance perspective the most surprising aspect is that the bank did not notice the pattern of spending.

But from a legal perspective, it is the acquittal of the husband that shows that little progress has been made since 1998 in securing convictions of those who benefit.