PR firm rescued after ex treasurer stole Pounds 180,000 [Birmingham Post (England)]
(Birmingham Post (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) APR firm which collapsed after struggling to recover from a hole in its accounts when a former employee stole nearly Pounds 200,000 has been saved in a "prepack" administration deal.
Cannock-based Ward Lovett Advertising and PR saw its balance sheet damaged when it emerged its treasurer, Michelle Ayliffe- Jessup, had stolen Pounds 180,000 from the company in the four years until 2010. The PR firm collapsed this winter, and administrators said despite continuing for three years after the fraud it never really recovered.
A deal has been struck to sell the firm, which employs around 12 members of staff, to newly-founded firm Kerst - owned by former Ward Lovett managing director Kerst Ward, days after the collapse.
The Post reported in 2011 that Ms Ayliffe-Jessup, who was jailed for five years for the crime, used cash stolen from the firm to pay for five star trips to Dubai and Italy's Lake Garda.
The fraudster also splashed cash on designer clothes and once bought an expensive silk kimono for a charity karaoke party.
Craig Povey and Kevin Murphy, partners and restructuring specialists at national accountancy firm Chantrey Vellacott DFK, were appointed administrators and oversaw the pre-pack on December 31.
Mr Povey, partner at Chantrey Vellacott DFK's Birmingham, said: "Ward Lovett was performing well before the fraud and the liabilities to HMRC.
"The reality is that any small business would struggle to come to terms with nearly Pounds 200,000 being stolen from its accounts, and the underlying business has the potential to be profitable again.
Michelle Jessup, stole Pounds from PR Ward "The firm had a built a strong reputation and has a string of lucrative contracts with major brands but had struggled following the theft."
Mr Ward, funder of Kerst added: "After a particularly difficult couple of years, because of forces beyond our control, we are now focused on putting the brand back on track."
Ms Ayliffe-Jessup's theft cost four people their jobs and almost sent the company to the wall.
Ward Lovett directors were unaware that she had lost her previous job for stealing Pounds 215,000 from Burntwood firm Fibratrim.
In court in June 2011, Ms Ayliffe-Jessup admitted three charges of theft from Ward Lovett between August 2006 and March 2010 - Pounds 6,629 on the firm's credit card and sums of Pounds 29,494 and Pounds 145,910 from its bank account, and a further charge related to Fibratrim between February 2000 and June 2006.
Ayliffe-who 180,000 firm In jailing her, Judge Michael Challinor, at Stafford Crown Court, told her: "For a period of 10 years you have been stealing from your employers.
"You cynically abused your position of trust and as a result a healthy family business has been seriously damaged, four people have lost their jobs and the impact on those left has been considerable."
During the hearing Chris Clark, defending, said Ms Ayliffe- Jessup had become demoralised by an abusive relationship.
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