Trusted secretary did not know when to stop stealing

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The Independent Online

To her bosses, Joyti De-Laurey was the perfect secretary.

Self-assured, poised, extremely efficient and apparently totally trustworthy, they regarded her as the best PA money could buy.

But beneath the polish of her private education and ready smile lurked a woman riven by jealousy, consumed by greed and burdened by debt.

The multi-millionaires she worked for at Goldman Sachs inhabited a world she felt should be hers.

She lusted after their luxury villas, servants and party-planner social life, their top-of-the-range cars, first class flights and five-star holidays.

One of them - Ron Beller - blew more than £86,000 on "personal travel" in 2000 alone. The same year wine soaked up a further £17,800.

Her insatiable greed began soon after she joined the blue chip investment bank in May 1998 as a recruitment agency temp.

But her husband Anthony, a £22,000-a-year chauffeur for Lloyds Register, could never hope to bankroll her desires.

A former Royal Naval rating, who then specialised in torpedo and anti-submarine sonar, he later joined the Ministry of Defence police guarding such places as Aldermaston and Porton Down. Sometimes he was armed.

A spell as a chauffeur for the Bahrain royal family followed.

By the time the couple met in a BMW car showroom where she worked, he had a similar driving job with Lloyds Register.

They married in 1995 ... several times.

Ever one for the grand statement, she decided that as his third wife it was only fitting they have three weddings.

The first was at a register office, the second was a traditional Hindu affair "for mummy's sake", while the third took place at the Chapel of Love during their Las Vegas honeymoon.

The 25-minute ceremony - at which the cab driver who drove them there doubled as a witness - was conducted by a black Elvis Presley "lookalike" complete with quiff, cowboy boots and all-white outfit.

They were in love and, in due course, were blessed with a son.

But as the union would never provide her with the serious wealth De-Laurey hungered after, she "coldly calculated" a solution - rampant dishonesty.

Becoming a permanent staff member in August 1999 and PA to her first victim, Jennifer Moses, not long afterwards, provided the means.

Behind a smokescreen of imaginary cancer and a large helping of sympathy, she embarked on a "massive" betrayal of trust that shocked the City and made uneasy reading for bosses the world over.

And if her seven-figure dishonesty brought a guilty twinge or two, a few thousand to the occasional charity and some treats for the "gals" in the office did wonders for smoothing out any inconvenient kinks in her conscience.

With each cheque and money transfer request she forged, she came ever nearer to the "lavish lifestyle" she craved.

By August 2001 she had managed to milk more than £1.1 million from Jennifer Moses and her husband Ron Beller, both managing directors at the bank.

Although at one point he thought his investment account might be "one or two million light", he could find nothing wrong and decided he was mistaken.

If De-Laurey had decided to call it a day at that stage, she might have got away with it.

But like many fraudsters before her, she did not know when to stop.

She wanted much more, and after they left the company, still unaware what she had done, she targeted their even wealthier successor Edward Scott Mead.

He, too, trusted her implicitly.

She had already siphoned off £113,970 from one of his investment accounts when the banker decided to add a multi-million pound apartment in New York to his growing collection of homes on either side of the Atlantic.

The PA immediately realised it would provide the perfect cover for her single largest theft.

Her regular contact with the "private wealth management team" that looked after the huge investments belonging to Goldman's top executives, and the trust she enjoyed, could not have made her dishonesty easier.

After casually informing one of the team's client analysts that the apartment's vendor lived in Cyprus, she forged Mr Mead's signature on an authentic-looking transfer request, and asked for that apparent purchase cash to be sent there - all £2.25 million of it.

Theresa Voight, who processed the transfer on January 26 2002, never once suspected the J Schahhou account it went to was one De-Laurey had set up in her maiden name.

She waited just over three weeks before she decided she had got away with it.

Between February 20 and April 26 - six days before her arrest - she pocketed a further £1.1 million.

By that time her boss was nearly £3.4 million the poorer.

A combination of her unstoppable greed and his generosity sealed her fate.

On May Day he asked the wealth management team to make a sizeable donation to Harvard, his former college.

He was shocked to learn he did not have enough, and was further stunned when he was told of unauthorised transfers to Cyprus.

By that time De-Laurey had already handed in her notice and told him she was moving to the island as the Archbishop of Nicosia's new assistant.

Mr Mead suspected her immediately and the following day she was arrested.

Even if she had managed to flee to the £750,000 seafront villa bought with the banker's cash, her choice of destination contained a fatal flaw.

One of those who helped bring her to justice believes she may have chosen the Mediterranean idyll after hearing it lacked an extradition treaty with Britain.

But unlike alleged swindler Asil Nadir of Polly Peck fame, it seems she failed to appreciate that only applied to the Turkish-controlled northern sector.

The Greek-governed south she had her heart set on would have happily heeded a British extradition request for her return.