Corby fraudster siphoned information from employers to funnel business to own firm

The copycat created her own business after taking private information held by her employers - but was soon busted

By Sam Wildman
Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 8:54 am
Northampton Crown Court.
Northampton Crown Court.

In May 2017 Marisa Cunningham set up her own firm, Happy Days Workshops.

But this was no ordinary start-up. The 62-year-old Corby woman was not a business genius full of contacts, ready to launch her own company.

Not contacts of her own, anyway.

At the time she was working as a member of sales staff at Primary Workshops for Schools Ltd, a firm based on the town's Earlstrees Industrial Estate who specialise in providing multi-cultural workshops in primary schools across the UK.

She had been employed there for a number of years, and was tasked with obtaining rebookings from existing clients.

Cunningham, of Pages Walk, should have been working to protect her employer's interests.

Instead she siphoned off private company information and documents to start her own rival business, attempting to mirror their work and trying to poach their performers.

The copycat even managed to secure a booking which was later returned - but she was soon busted and charged with fraud.

At Northampton Crown Court on Tuesday (July 21) she was spared from prison after being convicted.

The court heard Cunningham's employers were alerted to her effectively poaching performers, offering them work via a new company of which she appeared to be a director.

Police were contacted and an investigation found Cunningham had siphoned off Primary Workshops for Schools Ltd's inside information and documents.

Details of performers, including bank details, had been accessed by her. Forms that the company used to recruit performing staff had been copied directly and used by the new company. And contact was made to the database suppliers, fishing for information.

Prosecuting, Alex Young said Cunningham had used her role as a conduit for funnelling business to her.

He said: "This was a serious effort to set up a serious competitor business for the long-term."

But her effort lacked any sophistication, with material downloaded from her employer's computers found on a PC at her home and documents even found on her desk.

Sentencing, Recorder Stuart Sprawson described her fraudulent activity as "amateurish".

He added: "You were able to start putting down the roots of a business. You undoubtedly hoped to profit yourself in mirroring the work they had taken."

The court heard Primary Workshops for Schools Ltd made a gross loss in 2018, one year after posting a gross profit.

Mr Young said the fraud had cost them a sum in the region of £20,000, a figure disputed by Cunningham's barrister Micaila Williams. She said it was arbitary to put a figure of £20,000 at Cunningham's door.

Ms Williams said Cunningham was a woman of "exemplary" character but for this conviction and urged the case for a suspended sentence.

She said the Corby woman had recently suffered from the tragic passing of her husband, which the court heard was "linked to this case as far as she was concerned".

Ms Williams added that Cunningham has a teenage daughter who would be impacted by her going to prison and that a probation team had classed her as the "lowest likelihood of reoffending" in their pre-sentence report.

The court heard Cunningham still struggles with the jury's verdict to convict her of fraud.

But Recorder Sprawson told her: "Twelve of your peers rejected your case and decided that you were not telling the truth."

Recorder Sprawson said Cunningham's fraud crossed the custody threshold but, after hearing about strong personal mitigation and the low likelihood of reoffending, decided the sentence could be suspended.

She was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, and will face a proceeds of crime act hearing at a later date.

Primary Workshops for Schools Ltd has been contacted for comment.