A Co Down travel agent who admitted swindling customers, travel firms and credit card companies out of thousands of pounds escaped going to jail yesterday after her two-year jail term was suspended for three years.
Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Stephen Fowler QC said customers of 39-year-old Kathy Ward’s La Mon travel business, at best lost holidays, or at worse, were left stranded and alone.
One victim, James Lappin, booked a return flight to Cambodia only to find that his return flight had not been paid for.
“He was forced to live on the streets in Cambodia and beg for money and steal to survive before his family could raise the money for his return flight home,” said Judge Fowler.
Another victim, Alison Butcher, had booked her honeymoon to the Dominican Republic, only to later discover none of the money she handed over went towards her honeymoon.
“Victims, as well as suffering financial loss of holidays paid for, also suffered the stress of untangling the financial consequence of your fraud on their credit cards,” added the judge.
In all Ward, from Tollymore Brae, Newcastle, admitted a total of 80 offences including fraud, theft and one of forgery. In addition to the suspended jail term Judge Fowler also banned her from being a company director for seven years, and ordered that nearly £30,000 lodged by way of restitution, should be divided between her victims,
Her 47-year-old partner Mark McConkey, also escaped going to jail for helping his lover carry off the racket which involved copying customers’ credit card details.
McConkey, who admitted five counts of fraud by false representation and two of theft, had his 12-month sentence also suspended for theree years.
Judge Fowler said the frauds “showed a degree of planning and methodology”, where customers’ trust was breached.
“There were multiple victims over a significant period of time in which you, Ward, were the prime mover.
“McConkey played a lesser role for a much shorter period of time,” added the judge.
At an earlier hearing, Ward admitted 28 charges of fraud by false representation, 33 of fraud by abuse of position, 18 of theft and one of forgery.
The court was told that neither Ward nor McConkey had benefited personally from the racket, and there was “no lavish lifestyle’’. Lawyers also revealed that Ward had been diagnoised with Graves’ disease – a condition which affects the thyroid glands.