A £62,000-a-year former council boss from Selkirk admitted embezzling £27,152 of taxpayers’ money at Falkirk Sheriff Court on Wednesday.
Tom Leighton, 48, of Rosebank Drive, held a top job as Falkirk Council’s head of leisure services, the court was told.
His duties included staging the annual music festival Big In Falkirk, and his position meant he could authorise payments for services provided by third parties.
Kirsten Cockburn, prosecuting, said Leighton had held various local authority posts across Scotland before joining Falkirk Council in 2004. She said his line manager, Maureen Campbell, became suspicious of a payment made to a Mrs Gardiner in Galashiels.
The depute fiscal said the council worker knew that Leighton lived in the Borders himself.
“She wondered why he should pay anyone there,” added Ms Cockburn.
Ms Campbell decided to contact Mrs Gardiner – who turned out to be Leighton’s mother-in-law.
The prosecutor went on: “This led to an internal audit at Falkirk and various other payments came to light.”
The court heard that a payment of £6,000 was made to a Mrs Brown who was a work colleague of Leighton’s when he was at Scottish Borders Council. She said she transferred the money back to Leighton as requested by him.
Ms Cockburn told the court that, when quizzed by police, Mrs Brown said “she didn’t know she was doing anything illegal”. She said she couldn’t give a reason other than that “she was stupid”.
When police questioned Leighton’s mother-in-law about £4,000 she received and transferred back to him, she said her daughter had asked her to transfer money that he was due from Falkirk Council.
Ms Cockburn said Leighton’s wife, Nicola, told police she was “unaware of any criminality involving her husband”.
On Wednesday, Leighton pleaded guilty on indictment to embezzling £27,152 between October 2006 and May 2009 while employed as Fallkirk Council’s head of leisure services.
He had initially been accused of embezzling £75,578, but the figure was reduced by the prosecution.
He also admitted attempting to embezzle £16,000 – reduced from £17,675 – between July 2007 and May 2009. Ms Cockburn said that Leighton, who resigned from the council, “openly admitted being involved in these transactions”. She said he claimed he was suffering from depression at the time.
Iain Burke, defending, told the court that Leighton, a first offender, had paid back £13,000 to the council and was expected to pay the balance.
Sheriff William Gallacher told Leighton: “You abused a position of trust. Local authorities have limited resources, and those who take them for themselves face widespread opprobrium.”
He deferred sentence for background reports until December 5.