Secretary who had a £4m talent for stealing from her super-rich bosses

To her high-flying bosses, Joyti De-Laurey was the ultimate secretary. Well-spoken and efficient, she made life bearable for her superiors amid the cut and thrust of 18-hour days and multibillion-pound mergers.

For four years De-Laurey, 35, who has one child, shed the trappings of a suburban housewife from North Cheam in Surrey to work as personal assistant to millionaire executives at the London headquarters of the merchant bank Goldman Sachs. While her employers worked on huge deals, she paid their domestic bills, organised their birthday parties, booked piano lessons and, in one case, claimed she had covered up an affair. One of her three successive bosses said in a thank you letter: "Words fail me, you are truly amazing."

But a jury yesterday found that the amazing aspect of De-Laurey's talents was her ability to siphon £4,303,259 from the personal accounts of her bosses without them noticing. After five days of deliberation at the end of a three-month trial, the secretary was found guilty by a majority verdict of 20 fraud charges. They laid testimony to a campaign of deception and profligacy.

After the jury's verdict Scott Mead, the legendary former director of the telecoms division at Goldman Sachs - who brokered one of the largest mergers in corporate history, between Vodafone and Mannesmann - delivered a withering condemnation of the woman he once referred to as "Jot", who stole £3.5m from him in just 13 months. The Harvard-educated financier, who has a personal fortune estimated at £120m, said: "She violated and abused many people's trust in a most cynical and calculating way."

By forging signatures on cheques and money transfers, De-Laurey transferred vast sums to a network of bank accounts in Cyprus. By the time she was caught in May 2002, the privately educated and "utterly trusted" PA had created a lifestyle to match and even exceed that of her employers. Her purchases included a £675,000 villa in Cyprus, jewellery worth £380,000 from Cartier and a string of luxury cars: she paid a deposit on a £150,000 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish for her husband.

Within months of being taken on as a temp in May 1998 at Goldman Sachs' European headquarters in the City, De-Laurey began stealing to fund eight mortgages, a £12,000 trip to the Monaco Grand Prix, and a £10,000 holiday to Beverly Hills taken when she was supposedly recovering from a cancer-induced hysterectomy.

Judge Elwen, sitting at Southwark Crown Court, said such was the talent for duplicity of De-Laurey, who showed no emotion as the guilty verdicts were returned, that she should be remanded in custody prior to sentencing on 14 June. The judge said: "The evidence in this case persuades me that she is so dishonest, deceitful and untrustworthy that admitting her to bail pending sentence would run very serious risks."

Her husband, Anthony, 50, a former chauffeur, and her mother, Devi Schahhou, 68, a GP from Hampstead, were granted bail after they were each found guilty of four charges of money laundering linked to the thefts.

The case has raised seriousquestions about how the private bank accounts of some of the City's most talented and ruthless financiers had been so pillaged. Goldman Sachs, which last year made a profit of £3bn, said it had tightened internal security. A bank source said: "There was obviously a weakness."

The case has also lifted the lid on the "fairytale" income and lifestyle of the brokers for whom she worked. During the trial it emerged that Ron Beller, 41, the Goldman Sachs partner for whom De-Laurey worked before Mr Mead, spent more than £86,000 on "personal travel" and £17,800 on his wine cellar in 2000.

Mr Mead, 49, said he had spent the equivalent of a year of his life on board aircraft during his 15-year career with the bank. One former Goldman Sachs employee said: "In order to be at the very top, you have to utterly dedicated. If you have to be in office from 6am to midnight and then fly to New York then so be it.

"The rewards are huge but the result is you can lose touch with the real world. You're reliant on your personal assistant to organise your life."

To remove some of the stresses of daily life from its most senior staff Goldman Sachs operates a "personal wealth management team" from New York. It was here that De-Laurey sent the orders that allowed her to plunder the accounts of Mr Mead to the tune of £3.5m.

Her activities only came to light when he contacted the team to make a large donation to Harvard on May Day 2002 and was told that there were insufficient funds. Police were called to the bank's offices only days before De-Laurey was planning to execute a final sting by transferring £2.5m to Cyprus and fleeing there with her husband. She claimed she had a new job as an aide to the Archbishop of Nicosia.

A source close to the case said: "It would be fair to say that Scott was pretty pissed off with the wealth management team. If you have an unusually large payment on your credit card, it is normal practice for the bank to contact you to check it is valid. In the case of Goldman Sachs, they don't appear to have noticed a total of £3.5m going walkabout." The bank has returned the money after an insurance claim. Experts said the level of trust vested in someone in De-Laurey's position made it almost impossible to prevent her fraud.

Lawyers for the secretary insisted that she had been told in effect by her bosses - Mr Mead, Mr Beller and his wife, Jennifer Mosses - to help herself to their accounts as a reward for her diligence. Such was the wealth put at her disposal De-Laurey was guilty only of "honest greed, not theft or deception".

In her efforts to convince the jury of her case, De-Laurey tried to force Mr Mead, who is married and has five children, to admit her allegation that he had had an affair with an unnamed lawyer at a City firm. The secretary claimed her boss had allowed her to take his money as a thank you for repeatedly concealing his affair from his wife and friends, a claim that Mr Mead described in court as "utterly repulsive".

The broker, whose lawyers unsuccessfully argued in court for reporting restrictions to prevent details of his alleged infidelity being made public, said last night: "Her defence was a ludicrous and malicious fantasy."

Others described De-Laurey's claims as part of the increasingly desperate efforts of a vain woman to maintain a grip on a dream. A police source said: "She's clever in many ways but stupid in others. Even if she had made it to Cyprus, she would not have had the rest of her days in the sun. Her villa was on Greek part of the island. She would easily have been extradited."

Duped: the fearsome financiers of Goldman Sachs

SCOTT MEAD

According to City legend, Scott Mead forged his reputation as one of the world's most fearsome financiers with a simple motto, "You either hunt or be hunted". His prowess in the ultra-competitive telecoms sector at the height of the technology boom was sealed in 2000 when he engineered the £190bn merger between Vodafone and the German communications giant Mannesmann. Alongside his business acumen, the urbane American enjoyed an unblemished personal reputation as a regular and generous donor to charity. With high-level contacts in the White House and status as a trustee of Andover College, the American equivalent of Eton, it was rumoured that he had political ambitions.

But it was Mr Mead's turn to be hunted by April 2001, the same year in which he was ranked 268th in the Sunday Times rich list. While it was alleged that he was having an affair De-Laurey, his recently appointed secretary, was secretly copying e-mails that he had sent to his alleged lover.

RON BELLER

Shortly after leaving his post as a managing director of Goldman Sachs, Ron Beller reviewed his private accounts in August 2001. The financier, who is aged 41, found that his investment account was "one or two million light" but could not trace the money and decided he was mistaken. Had Joyti De-Laurey ended her campaign of larceny from her employers at that stage, she might never have been caught.

Mr Beller, the husband of Jennifer Moses, De-Laurey's original employer at the bank, said in court that he had made "a lot of money" when Goldman Sachs was floated in 1999. But he denied that the £1.1m taken from him and his wife was a "paltry sum" which he had allowed De-Laurey to take.

The trial jury was told that the couple led a wealthy lifestyle with a large house in New York, looked after by housekeepers and landscape gardeners, and personal shoppers at the exclusive Manhattan store Bergdorf Goodman. The former banker is now building a school in Brixton, south London.

JENNIFER MOSES

When she was approached by her secretary in November 2000 with a request for a house loan, Mrs Moses had little hesitation in handing £40,000 to Joyti De-Laurey. The 42-year-old former managing director at Goldman Sachs had built up a close relationship with her personal assistant since her role as a temp was converted into a permanent post in 1999. Such was the closeness between the two women that De-Laurey was asked by Ron Beller to help organise his wife's surprise 40th birthday party in Rome. To show her gratitude, the banker gave her PA £5,000 in cash and jewellery worth £800.

But unbeknown to Mrs Moses, De-Laurey was at the same time raiding her bank accounts. When the time came to pay back the £40,000 loan, she did so using her employer's own money. Such was the couple's lack of suspicion about the true nature of De-Laurey's dedication, they offered her £52,000 a year to work for them when they left Goldman Sachs early in 2001. She refused, preferring to work instead for Scott Mead.

DE-LAUREY'S ASTONISHING SPENDING SPREE

Despite her modest life in the suburbs, Joyti De-Laurey had no problem acting like a millionaire as she worked her way through£4.3m.

She spent £314,335.87 in Cartier on a watch for her husband. A further £10,500 went on Gucci and Louis Vuitton outfits, and thousands more was spent on handbags and jewellery.

But most went to establish a luxury life in Cyprus, where the family intended to settle. She spent £750,000 on the Villa Almas, near Paphos, which included a swimming pool and a new Range Rover. Furnishings cost £500,000, and £85,000 bought a two-storey maisonette near by.

Bank accounts in her maiden name, Schahhou, were tracked down on the island, holding £1.1m.

Nine property interests emerged in Britain, including a £160,000 home for her mother-in-law; a £135,000 property for her stepson, Mark; £52,000 paid off her mother's mortgage; and £400,000 on unidentified investments. She also bought a house in Essex.

Her home in Cheam was given a £4,300 makeover. She spent £27,900 on a Saab convertible, £30,800 on a Chrysler Voyager, and £14,036 on a VW Golf. She also paid £101,000 towards a £150,000 Jeanneau Prestige 36 boat. Her husband received £50,000 of flying lessons, two Honda Gold Wing motorbikes and a vintage Harley Davidson.

Kate Morris