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Two jailed for defrauding potato co-op of pounds 150,00.

WALES' largest potato co-operative was the victim of a huge fraud by two members of its own management team, a court heard yesterday.

Swansea Crown Court heard that the managing director and the company secretary of Haverfordwest-based Puffin Produce got away with more than pounds 150,000 before a whistle blower tipped off other members of the board.

The co-op's managing director, Martin Cocks, 55, of Haven Park, Herbrandston, Pembrokeshire, admitted six offences of theft and nine of fraud yesterday.

Cindy Plunkett, 44, now of Grimsby, pleaded guilty to eight offences of fraud.

Jim Davis, prosecuting, said Puffin Produce was formed in 1995 on the Withybush Industrial Estate in Pembrokeshire to help local farmers market potatoes. A total of 30 producers became shareholders and the remaining 49% of shares were owned by Fenmarc Produce.

Plunkett and Cocks joined the venture in the early days and as it developed two more directors were appointed.

In March 2004 he began paying himself regular bonuses of up to pounds 12,000 a time, in addition to his pounds 60,000 salary, and at the same time awarded bonuses to two other board members, the court heard.

Mr Davis said the payments were kept secret from the rest of the board.

He said in January, 2007, Cocks developed a second scam which involved Plunkett. The pair began to generate bogus invoices which Puffin Produce appeared to pay. But while the cheque stubs bore the names of the firms and individuals "invoicing" Puffin, the cheques were made out to Plunkett and Cocks.

In total, said Mr Davis, Cocks received pounds 124,526 in bonuses and cheques he was not entitled to and Plunkett pounds 27,607. Mr Davis said the effect on the company was considerable. The shareholder farmers only ever received one dividend payment.

Dyfed Thomas, for Cocks, said his client planned to repay all the money. He had sold his house and now lived in a caravan, and if he sold his jet-ski, Porsche car and Harley-Davidson motor bike he could raise the rest, the court heard.

David Lloyd, for Plunkett, said she had already repaid all the pounds 27,607 she had received and blamed Cocks for getting her involved.

Judge Peter Heywood accepted that Cocks had been a driving force behind the venture and that Plunkett had also made a major contribution. Cocks was jailed for 18 months and Plunkett for eight months.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 9, 2010
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