Job Centre worker Rajesh Masih stole nearly £700 from accounts set up to help unemployed people to feed his gambling addiction.
Masih, 42, a leader at his local church, built up debts betting on horses, dogs and roulette machines, Luton crown court heard yesterday.
Prosecutor David Jenkins said Masih worked for the Department of Work and Pensions in Bedford, supporting job seekers trying to find work. Those who attend interviews are sometimes given money from accounts set up in their names to buy clothes and other items so they are properly prepared.
Unbeknown to three job seekers, Masih accessed their files, using a Smart Card and Passcode, and transferred money into his wife’s bank account, without her knowledge. He then accessed her account and transferred the money to himself.
Mr Jenkins said he took £325 on June 23 last year, £252 on November 6th and £120 on December 18th, making a total of £697.
He was caught after an internal audit was carried out and was dismissed. When questioned, Masih said he had gambling problems with loans of £7,000 and credit card debts of £200. He had been losing money on horses, dogs and roulette machines.
Masih, a father of two of Ampthill Road, Bedford, appeared for sentence having earlier pleaded guilty to fraud.
He was not represented by a lawyer. The prosecutor said Masih was of previous good character, had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and had shown genuine remorse. His youngest child had medical problems that required his father’s support, he said.
Addressing the judge from the dock, Masih said: “I wish to express my utmost remorse. It was a one off. I am not a hardened criminal and I won’t be a repeat offender.
“I had pressed a self-destruct button and have lost my job and tarnished my reputation at work, in society and at church.”
He said he taught children to play Indian drums and had been a ‘worship leader’ at the church. He said he now attended Gamblers’ Anonymous, and had taken part in a scheme that bans people with gambling problems from betting shops.
Masih said he had an opportunity for work as a Field Sales Representative and wanted to pay the money back.
Sentencing him, Judge David Farrell QC said: “Your addiction to gambling caused you to behave in the way you did. What you did was thoroughly dishonest. You were employed in a position of trust.”
The judge said his actions merited an immediate prison sentence, but he said there were exceptional circumstances that allowed him to suspend it. These were: his lack of previous convictions, his early guilty plea, his genuine remorse, the loss of his job and career and his child’s medical condition.
He said: “It is not in the public interest to send you to prison for a matter of weeks. It is better for you and the public that you are punished in the community.”
The judge passed a six-month jail sentence suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work and must be supervised by probation officers for a year.
After the sentence, Masih said: “Thank you your honour.”