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Dad's Amazon splurge after conning Blaze Signs in Broadstairs out of £56,000

A "greedy" father-of-two tricked his employer out of £200,000 to squander on luxuries - including a hot tub from Amazon - in an elaborate hoax.

Benjamin Cullen, of Herne Bay, drained his boss’s credit cards to make more than 500 purchases from the online retailer as part of the scam.

Rattan furniture, a gazebo, video games, gin and a nose wax kit were some of the items the 43-year-old frittered his ill-gotten gains on.

The fraudster was jailed for four years and nine months on Wednesday at Canterbury Crown Court.

Blaze Signs in Broadstairs hired Cullen in 2016 to oversee the running of its IT department, the court heard.

Entrusted with the firm’s finances by 2018, including his CEO’s American Express card, Cullen longed for the high-life his £37,000 salary could ill-afford.

By 2020, he would leave one of the UK’s largest sign-makers counting the significant cost of his fraud, after doctoring dozens of invoices payable to fake firms which he assembled.

Peter Forbes, prosecuting, told how Cullen paid 10 invoices worth £24,000 from Peartree Computing, where he was the director, between 2018-2020.

Blaze Signs in Broadstairs. Picture: Google Street View
Blaze Signs in Broadstairs. Picture: Google Street View

Meanwhile, the IT specialist created domain host firm GFI Mailer, then authorised £90,000 worth of payments from Blaze’s budget to the company.

He then used Clive Knight’s company card to make some 527 payments from Amazon worth £56,000, including a “black rattan hot tub surround”, Mr Forbes said.

The court heard Cullen doctored the paper trail to reflect computer gear, to conceal the unusual payments.

But he came unstuck after skimming £29,000 from Mr Knight’s AmEx card.

Cullen didn’t use reference numbers while making fraudulent payments to himself, so the bank auto-filled the records with his mobile phone number.

"Because he suffers from autism he will find it particularly onerous dealing with the prison environment..."

The fraudster was suspended in September 2020 pending an internal investigation, Mr Forbes said.

But even while auditors worked to unearth the extent of damage caused by Cullen, Blaze continued to be pestered for random payments from GFI Mailer, the court heard.

The firm, based in Patricia Way, continues to feel the aftershock of Cullen’s actions.

It said in a statement that the amount he stole was “still being calculated nearly two years on”.

The company added “business was significantly interrupted” requiring “specialist intervention” from an outsourced IT department.

Benjamin Cullen was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court
Benjamin Cullen was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court

A probe revealed Cullen had been furnishing the company with outdated hardware in a bid to cover his tracks.

Following his arrest, Cullen pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud by abuse of position earlier this year.

Appearing in the dock on Wednesday, Cullen became restless and fidgety as the prosecution laid out its case.

Supported by his wife in the public gallery, he covered his face with his hand and wept as the judge delivered his final remarks.

Judge Mark Weekes told Cullen his actions were driven by “pure greed on your part,” and a “desire to live the high life well beyond your means”.

He dubbed the scheme a “gross abuse of a trusted position in a company”.

Paul Hogben, mitigating, told how Cullen has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD and depression.

He added Cullen had pleaded guilty at an early opportunity and, if he was jailed, the family home in Peartree Road could be repossessed.

"Custody is going to be very hard for this man," Mr Hogben said.

"It will be his first term of prison but because he suffers from autism he will find it particularly onerous dealing with the prison environment.”

Mr Hogben said Cullen had since found work in a school for £25,000 salary and would only be able to compensate Blaze if he continued to work.

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