Company boss who stole to pay for sex is jailed for three years

A businessman who stole £500,000 from his company to pay for gifts to a prostitute was jailed yesterday for three years.

Peter Lee, 51, who is married with two children, siphoned money from his bus company to finance his infatuation with a London call-girl named Tia.

As well as paying £1,000 a night for sex, he bought her a BMW convertible, jewellery and a holiday in Bali before his crimes were exposed.

His company, Durham Travel Services, collapsed and 170 employees lost their jobs.

Lee, from Tynemouth, Tyneside, was sentenced at Durham Crown Court to three years imprisonment after pleading guilty to three counts each of forgery, theft and false accounting. Judge John Walford said: "You have thrown away a lifetime of hard work and you have brought shame not only on yourself but on your family. Your reputation is in tatters and your future is obviously a difficult one."

The court heard how Lee stole nearly £590,000 from his company in Seaham, Co Durham, and spent the money on three women.

Lee paid Tia, whose real name is Antoinette Cato, a total of £493,000 over three years until his crimes were exposed in June 2002. A further £60,600 was paid to an associate of Ms Cato, Faye Tarter, between April 2000 and the end of 2001. Susan Stewart, from Bishop Auckland, Lee's former mistress and the mother of his teenage son, received nearly £39,000.

Lee set up Durham Travel Services with a co-director, Eric Bowerbank, in 1988. In July 2002, his office manager, Maureen Bell, exposed the fraud while Lee was on holiday, having discovered his relationship with Ms Cato, 27. Lee's company, which had a £5m annual turnover in 2000, went into liquidation in 2002.

After the hearing, Mr Bowerbank said: "Peter Leehas cheated on his family, his employees, his business and his colleagues. He has let many people down."

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