Equine researcher jailed for four and half years for fraud

  • An equine researcher has been jailed for four and a half years after fraudulently securing £297,000 of specialist camera equipment.

    Maria Magdalena Leitner, 56, of Bollington, Cheshire, was convicted of three counts of fraud and one count each of obtaining credit whilst bankrupt, failing to deliver assets to the official receiver and acting as a director whilst bankrupt when she appeared at Chester Crown Court on 28 November for sentencing.

    The court heard that in 2005 Dr Leitner set up Equine Research & Information Centre Limited (ERIC), a specialist horse research company.

    In 2010 Dr Leitner “dishonestly” secured £297,000 for specialist camera equipment by applying for funds through ERIC using a leasing company, in order to buy the equipment, which was only worth $250,000, from a company based in the United States.

    Dr Leitner told the leasing company she was buying the camera equipment from another company, which she had falsely set up, and not the firm in the United States. It was heard Dr Leitner did this to make the leasing company believe this was a valid transaction for the larger amount. On receiving the funds, Dr Leitner used the money to clear her debts including mortgage payments instead of paying the full amount due to the camera supplier.

    Dr Leitner paid back over £128,000 but stopped making payments. The leasing company applied to have her made bankrupt in 2012 and the research company ERIC was closed down in July 2012. Following bankruptcy she illegally came to a credit agreement with the camera supplier in order to have the equipment delivered.

    The Insolvency Service was brought in to carry out investigations and said Dr Leitner was uncooperative throughout enquiries. Dr Leitner only handed over a small number of cameras to the Official Receiver claiming the rest had gone missing, but instead had kept back cameras and software for herself. It was found Dr Leitner submitted £43,412 worth of false VAT returns, while laundering the proceeds of one of these returns through an offshore account in Mauritius.

    At sentencing, HHJ Everitt said Dr Leitner had “set up a web of deceit” and “there was sophistication and a lot of planning over a sustained period of time”.

    Insolvency Service director of legal services Arwel Jones said: “Dr Leitner may well have genuinely wanted to buy the camera equipment but this was unfortunately the start of her downfall. She told a series of lies to secure funds and once she received the money, Dr Leitner used it to pay off her debts. From there on in she continued to defraud various organisations and even when it got to the point of our investigations, Dr Leitner continued to act deceitfully and dishonestly.

    “Four-and-a-half years is a significant sentence and we hope this sends a strong message that we will robustly investigate and bring criminal prosecutions if appropriate where people carry out fraudulent activities.”

    Dr Leitner had been previously disqualified as a director for 11 years by Macclesfield County Court in 2014 in connection with ERIC.

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