A WOKINGHAM man defrauded Bracknell’s Jemca Toyota car dealership of more than £750,000 in a bid to fuel his gambling addiction.

Richard Zarifeh, of Church Lane, Arborfield, will serve three years and ten months behind bars as punishment for his actions.

The 32-year-old started funnelling money from the sale of the John Nike Waydealership’s cars into his own bank account in January 2017 and continued this abuse of power for more than two years.

Acting as a corporate sales executive at the firm, he was able to access the company’s systems to help “cover up” the fraud.

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His actions came to light when he confessed his stealing -- which cost the car dealership a total of £777,620 -- to a colleague at a meeting he had arranged.

Describing how he was able to get away with the fraud for so long, Lily Roberts-Phelps, prosecuting, said: “If any of his colleagues questioned him he would come up with an excuse.

“Richard Zarifeh started by taking cash payments from customers and ended up giving them his own bank account details [for customers to transfer money to when purchasing cars].

“This was a sophisticated fraud.”

A statement from Zarifeh’s manager at Toyota was read aloud at court.

It stated: “This caused me a lot of stress. It was a very worrying time.

“This has damaged my reputation in the company.

“I now don’t trust anyone, which is very sad because being able to trust someone is a very important part of life.”

Defending, Rosie Bayley said Zarifeh did not gain as much as the company lost, estimating his total gain to be around £600,000.

Ms Bayley denied her client’s fraud was “sophisticated”, adding that he simply had access to Toyota’s financial systems and was able to lie about his acts.

She pleaded with Judge Kirsty Real for a reduction in Zarifeh’s sentence as a psychiatric report confirmed his addiction diagnosis.

Bayley said: “These actions were taken by somebody who was in the grip of a gambling addiction.

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“It would have been very difficult for Zarifeh to stop himself taking this money and placing it on bets.

“He was groomed by gambling companies [...] and was encouraged to spend more and more.

“It is fair to say he made no profit from this, he was trying to recover his losses [from gambling].

“He has ruined his own life already.”

Ms Bayley said the defendant had met with former colleagues at Toyota to try and “make amends” as well as to explain the faults in their financial systems to them so they could be improved.

Summing up, Judge Kirsty Real said most of the money lost by Toyota had been recovered thanks to insurance claims, but that Zarifeh’s actions caused “additional stress” to his colleagues.

Taking his gambling issues into account, she added: “The court doesn’t underestimate the grip of such an addiction.

“But you do come across as having a self-centred attitude. You didn’t have to offend, you could have chosen to seek help sooner.

“It is a credit to you that you were the one who brought this to an end.

“But it is suffice to say that only a custodial sentence can be justified.”

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Judge Real handed Zarifeh a prison sentence of 46 months (three years and ten months) after he pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of trust in February.

He will serve half of this time in jail before he is eligible to be released on licence.

Zarifeh was sentenced at Reading Magistrates Court on Friday, April 30.

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