Council worker stole £128,000 in a year from fostering funds

A council employee has been caught swindling Council Tax-payers of tens of thousands of pounds, this time depriving fostered children of the care they needed so that she could fuel her drug habit.

Stephanie Standen, from South Croydon, stole more than £100,000 while working at Fisher’s Folly, and was jailed for four years at Croydon Crown Court February 26.

For more than a year, Standen was able to siphon off money from the council’s electronic payments system – money that was intended to help fund support for some of the borough’s most vulnerable children.

Croydon Children’s Services department has been under special measures since 2017, when it failed an Ofsted inspection. It seems possible that Standen’s fraudulent activities only came to light after additional staff were brought in to the Children’s Services department and staff’s activities working within that department came under additional scrutiny.

According to the Metropolitan Police, “Between September 6, 2016, and September 26, 2017, Standen created false records of fictitious foster service providers, who would, if they truly existed, have been entitled to payments from the council for services they performed.

Standen: got away with £120,000

“Standen attached legitimate bank account details, in her name and the names of a number of her associates to these false service provider records allowing payments to be released to personal accounts. As a result she was able to divert £128,067.63 of the council’s fostering budget into these bank accounts.

“From this process Standen personally received £64,628.39, which was paid directly into bank accounts belonging to her. These funds were all spent prior to her arrest in April 2018.”

The arrest came after a fraud investigator for Croydon Council identified a number of anomalies in the electronic accounting system. A number of payments were identified where edits had been made to the records – these edits were made by a user number attributed to Standen.

Having originally denied the offences, at her trial she pleaded guilty.

Given the size of the sums embezzled by Standen over a relatively short period of time, questions could be asked of the levels of management and financial controls which were being applied at the time by Croydon Council.

Other cases in the past have exposed how staff have abused their council positions to enrich themselves or their friends and family.

Back in 2017, Inside Croydon unveiled another case where poor financial controls allowed council staff to use public money as if it was their own. And worse, the council tried to cover-up the case.

We uncovered how the council’s “Godfather”, Graham Cadle, was paying £787 per day to an IT contractor, Harry Singh. It was Croydon Council’s redefinition of “mates’ rates”, where the fees being paid were increased for family friends.

Everything done appeared legitimate, except that it was a flagrant breach of the council’s code of conduct and employment conditions.

Cadle was effectively the No3 most senior executive at the council at the time. He was also the godfather to Singh’s son, but never disclosed the relationship. Whistleblowers reported the matter, concerned at Singh’s lack of qualifications and abilities for the work he was hired to do. But their bosses in Fisher’s Folly did nothing other than issue a mild warning to Cadle and the mother of Singh’s child, another senior council employee, Karen Sullivan.

Only after the Inside Croydon investigation prompted a second review of the activities of the three friends did they all, eventually, leave their positions, though not before Jo Negrini, the £220,000 council chief executive, had emailed the borough’s elected councillors in an attempt to gag them from discussing the sordid affair.

There were never any criminal charges pursued or prosecutions made in this earlier case.

In the latest case involving Standen and the tens of thousands of pounds swindled from the children services department, her associates were identified and arrested between April and June 2018. They were convicted of money laundering offences and sentenced as follows at the same hearing as Standen:

  • George Sharpless, 25, received £11,000 from Standen; he was given an 18-month suspended sentence;
  • Simeon Brown, 39, received £9,528.83 from Standen; he was given 120 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £2,000 compensation;
  • Hollie West, 31, received £11,884.14 from Standen; she was given an 18-month suspended sentence;
  • Sonny Veerasawmy, 31, received £16,150 from Standen; he was given an 18-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay £6,000 compensation;
  • Steven Little, 33, received £4,150 from Standen; he was given 100 hours unpaid work and order to pay £4,150 compensation.

“The loss of more than £128,000 to Croydon Council had a significant impact on services for children who required care from the fostering budget,” Detective Constable Simon Allen, who led the investigation, said.

“The loss meant that children who needed services were not able to be provided with them as there were insufficient funds in the budget following the fraud.

“Standen was in a position of trust and nobody could have predicted how she would have abused this. She had no previous convictions and blamed her behaviour on an extensive drug habit.”

DC Allen’s final comment might be interpreted as being damning with faint praise: “I would like to thank Croydon Council who provided assistance and support throughout the investigation.”


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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6 Responses to Council worker stole £128,000 in a year from fostering funds

  1. Isaiah Fapuro says:

    This is probably just my naive, private sector brain, but it still surprises me how corrupt Local government can be…but probably more so how there aren’t robust enough systems in place to prevent this from happening again (Not just localised to Croydon!).

    • David Wickens says:

      Croydon used to have a system whereby those issuing orders could not sign off payments. Furthermore, and depending on amounts, additional signatures were needed. Thus two and most likely more people were needed to order and pay for services.
      Assuming such a system still exists, there must be other employees who had a responsibility for this.

    • Isaiah, when it comes to corruption, your naive, private sector brain has overlooked the businesses that bankrolled Brexit, tax “avoidance” by the likes of Amazon, the fact that a serial bankrupt can become the 45th President of the USA and our government’s enthusiastic participation in wars on terrorism while helping arms dealers sell their wares to oppressive regimes that use them to kill civilians.

      ,

      • Isaiah Fapuro says:

        Arfur, I haven’t overlooked anything. My point is that this level of corruption is staggering for the public sector. With what’s at stake it simply shouldn’t be happening but there are bad people everywhere. I’m well aware of the private sectors issues, issues that I wasn’t using to amplify my point.

        Sounds like you need to work on your reading comprehension.

      • Colin Cooper says:

        As you evidently have ALL the answers, please explain, in detail, why the Council are £1.5 billion in debt, without resorting to the ‘usual’ pathetic ‘it’s the Governments fault’. The local Council is responsible for overspending, NOT the Government!

  2. Lewis White says:

    There is a huge difference between overspending, and THEFT !

    Sadly, some people in the public sector and private sector are deficient in morality , and find ways of diverting their employer’s or client’s — or public money– into their own bank accounts, wallets or purses. It is all theft, and also is a breach of that key human thing–trust.

    They are thankfully few in number, and most get caught eventually.

    Thieves and con-persons exist at all levels of seniority, and in all sectors, including as we know, occasionally, some politicians, police and lawyers. But we are talking here of stealing, and deception.

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