AN “OVERWHELMED” second hand car seller committed a £160,000 fraud at a post office in an effort to keep the business afloat.

Anthony Chediak was spared an immediate prison term by a judge at Bournemouth Crown Court this week, one-and-a-half years after the postmaster was jailed for fraud by abuse of position.

Chediak presented four cheques totalling £160,000 to Newtown Post Office in Sea View Road in September 2017.

These were to be paid into the accounts of two businesses – Coastline Cars Limited and Coastline Vehicle Supply Limited, both registered to offices in North Road, Poole, which he was running at the time.

A change in the process at Newtown Post Office, implemented by then postmaster Douglas Grant, meant the accounts were credited before the funds had formally been released.

Chediak then stopped the cheques through his bank, meaning the Post Office was £160,000 out of pocket.

The 46-year-old, of Queens Park Avenue, Bournemouth, was handed a 58-week prison sentence, suspended for two years at Bournemouth Crown Court on Tuesday, May 25, after admitting an offence of fraud by false representation when his trial was due to begin the previous day.

Grant, now 60 and formerly of Sea View Road, Poole, admitted a charge of fraud by abuse of position as a postmaster for his conduct in August and September 2017.

He was jailed for two years and four months at Bournemouth Crown Court in November 2019. This case had been subject to reporting restrictions, which were lifted following the conviction of Chediak.

Newtown Post Office was permanently closed in October 2017.

Prosecuting, Russell Pyne said Chediak had “extensive dealings” with Newtown Post Office, with it being extremely close to his business premises in Sea View Road.

Chediak had been a car salesman but he took on a more senior role in early 2017 after his brother stepped aside due to a member of their family suffering ill health.

The court heard the two businesses were arranged so that one purchased vehicles and the other sold them on.

The prosecutor said on the morning of September 21, 2017, Chediak presented Grant with four cheques totalling £160,000, which were to be paid into the two business accounts.

“Both company bank accounts were credited with £80,000,” said Mr Pyne.

“As a result of so doing, both accounts, which had been heavily overdrawn, were turned to credit so the companies gained some short-term liquidity and the business activities were able to continue.”

Mr Pyne said the defendant stopped the cheques on September 24 before they had been honoured.

Senior Post Office staff attended Newtown Post Office on September 27 and spoke to Grant, who went to see Chediak and returned with £25,000 in cash.

Mr Pyne said the “precise reason” for the change Grant implemented for dealing with cheques was “quite unclear”.

Grant was suspended, the post office was closed and Chediak was interviewed in due course but he denied acting dishonestly.

Mr Pyne said the defendant was “pretty much overwhelmed” by trying to keep the company accounts afloat.

Companies House confirms Coastline Cars Limited was liquidated in April 2018 and Coastline Vehicle Supply Limited was dissolved five months later.

Mitigating for Chediak, Nick Cotter said his client “made poor decisions and has regretted those decisions for a tremendous amount of time”.

Mr Cotter said Chediak did not set out in the business as a fraudster, with around £700,000 worth of cheques being paid legitimately.

The barrister said the arrangement with the post office saw the “money getting away from” his client, who lost his family home and a job as a result.

“He is doing his best to make amends,” said Mr Cotter.

Recorder Anna Midgely ruled Chediak, who had no previous convictions, was not motivated by personal gain although added that trying to keep the companies funded led to him still receiving his salary.

She spared him immediate prison, with the suspended sentence including a requirement to complete 80 hours of unpaid work, along with a £2,700 compensation order.

The court heard Proceeds of Crime Act matters are likely to be pursued later this year.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual cases. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to any customers by the branch not re-opening, but there are other nearby branches providing services at Ringwood Road and Parkstone.”

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