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Accountant admits fraud charges after newspaper sting

A crooked accountant exposed by a journalist’s undercover sting has admitted a string of fraud charges – after initially claiming the newspaper had breached his privacy.

Leslie Lesser was first investigated by the Southend Echo in 2009 after 69-year-old Maggie Tuttle claimed he was refusing to return £333,000 of her money.

At first the 78-year-old claimed he had suffered a mental breakdown which had forced him to stop working, and that he could not remember what he had done with the cash.

But Echo investigations editor Jon Austin, posing as an investor who had come into an inheritance, filmed Lesser on camera outlining a number of investment options to him.

Jon also discovered Lesser was still running a will writing business and handling several people’s wills.

Within 18 days of a special six-page report published over two days in 2009, Essex Police arrested Lesser and seized documents from his home.

Lesser was on bail for 18 months before being charged with six counts of fraud, including making false declarations to obtain credit.

While on bail Lesser complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the Echo article had breached his privacy.

However, following two separate investigations by the watchdog, it twice ruled that it had been in the public interest for the Echo to use subterfuge in this case as it was the only way to establish if Lesser was still accepting business while claiming he could no longer work.

He later admitted five of the offences, but cotinued to deny falsely obtaining the £333,000 from Mrs Tuttle until changing his plea to guilty on the second day of a trial last month.

Lesser received a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years, due to his age.

Commented Jon:  “When Mrs Tuttle phoned in it sounded like a civil matter which would be difficult to prove, but when it came to light Mr Lesser had blamed mental health issues on the problems with Premium Finance, it seemed more important to look into this.

“Without going undercover there would have been little chance of getting the same evidence. Mrs Tuttle is convinced if we had not published this he may have never been arrested.”