AN estate agent has described the extreme stress caused by a former employee who swindled new tenants by making them pay bogus parking charges and pocketing the money.
Single mother Jodie Isaac, 24, also stole thousands of pounds worth of deposits and rent which she should have passed on to her employers.
Isaac was taken on by the long-established family firm of Watts and Sons in Tiverton as manager to develop the lettings business but fleeced both the firm and its clients.
One of the ways in which she took money was by telling new tenants they had to pay her charges for parking in cash, Exeter Crown Court was told. Isaac, of Cudmore Park, Tiverton, admitted theft and was jailed for six months, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours' unpaid community work by Recorder Kevin de Haan QC.
He told her: "Stealing from an employer is an extremely serious offence because a small business like this has put their trust in you and when employees take money dishonestly it causes enormous financial harm.
"In this economic climate, businesses have less capacity to absorb loss and in this case the cost is not just directly in the money you took but also in loss of confidence.
"You stole £7,000 over 16 months and I have to take into account the anguish you have caused to the Watts family and to their customers. There was an element of concealment.
"You have a young child with difficulties and if you were to go to prison you would be separated from him and that would cause anguish to your whole family."
Janice Eagles, prosecuting, said Isaac was taken on to start and manage a lettings business by Lynn Watts, the daughter of the founder of the firm.
She said: "Isaac presented herself despite her age as somebody with experience of lettings and was therefore trusted to run that side of the business.
"She abused that trust by stealing. She asked for cash payments from tenants and took sums of £300 to £500 for deposits and rent and other payments, including parking charges she invented.
"Money was moved from what should have been business accounts into her own account and because of the trust placed in her this was not detected for some time.
"Lynn Watts became suspicious when she found unopened post in a waste bin and challenged her. She went to the police and told them she was under pressure at the time.
"The owners have made a victim impact statement in which they say they rely heavily on their local good name and have great concern her actions have diminished their reputation.
"They feel this young woman has done significant damage to their reputation."
Miss Eagles said the firm estimated its losses at around £9,000, while Isaac had admitted £7,000.
Lee Bremridge, defending, said Isaac had repaid £3,000 by borrowing money off her grandmother and selling her car.
He said she was not in overall charge and was working flexible hours and had gone to the police of her own accord when the thefts came to light.
He said: "She is deeply ashamed of what she has done and regrets it very much. There were reasons behind what she did and she is a lady of effectively good character."
After the case Lynn Watts told the Gazette: "All of us at Watts & Sons are pleased with the outcome.
"The past 14 months have been an extremely stressful time for us. Jodie's greedy and selfish actions have also taken its toll on our 82-year-old mother who, over 46 years, built up this business with our late father, Len. I would like to thank the many tenants and landlords for their patience, understanding and support during this ordeal".