A UNION branch for Hartlepool public sector workers was faced with possible closure after a crooked treasurer cleaned out its bank reserves.
Trusted Ann Sharp, 54, secretly siphoned off more than £40,000 from the Hartlepool branch of Unison for three and a half years while she was its treasurer.
Yesterday she was jailed for 18 months at Teesside Crown Court after the court heard how her actions could have forced the branch to close.
Prosecutor Ian West said Sharp stole £41,680 from the branch by writing out cheques to herself and cashing them at the bank.
He said: “When Mrs Sharp had taken over as treasurer in March 2008 the branch had reserves of £40,000.
“By the time she left the branch was in deficit.”
Hartlepool Unison branch secretary Edwin Jeffries told the court Sharp’s thieving could have led to the closure of the branch and redundancy of another employee.
Unison bosses said they have worked tirelessly to stabilise the branch’s finances caused by Sharp’s plundering.
Prosecutors will also launch confiscation procedures later to try to recoup as much of the stolen money as possible.
As treasurer, Sharp was able to sign cheques in herself.
Fellow branch officer would counter sign them believing the money was for official business.
After a while, Sharp was so trusted she would ask them to sign blank cheques.
“Sometimes when she could not find someone to counter sign them she forged signatures,” added Mr West.
“Pretty much straight away Mrs Sharp was siphoning money off.
“She then went down to the bank, cashed the cheque for cash and pocketed the money.
“It was as easy as that. She effectively abused the trust that the other members of the committee put in her.”
The Hartlepool branch of Unison has 2,300 members, most of them Hartlepool Borough Council workers.
Sharp’s dishonesty was discovered after an audit by the union’s national headquarters.
Its accounting procedures have been tightened as a result of the case.
Paul Abrahams, mitigating, said Sharp did not seek out the role in order to steal from the money.
He said she had been in “absolute financial turmoil” from credit card debts and loans.
Mr Abrahams said: “She was in a financial pickle at home. She was in a position that perhaps was inappropriate to be in, and took advantage of that.”
Married Sharp, of Pannell Place, Hartlepool, admitted four counts of theft.
Family members in the court’s public gallery wept as she was taken down to the cells.
Recorder David Dobbin said: “People put their trust in you, the committee and members of the branch.
“Taking into account that you were in breach of trust and the offending was virtually from the outset, there is no alternative but to impose a custodial sentence.”