A lonely pensioner stole £32,000 from church funds and then lost every penny on an internet dating site after being scammed by a man posing as a woman, a court heard.
Ian Muschamp, 67, abused his position as a book-keeper at St Helen’s Road Methodist Church in Greater Manchester, to steal funds for two-and-a-half years.
He would forge checks in order to withdraw money from the account and then went on to lose every penny when he became the victim of a scam.
Muschamp joined an “adult website” to speak to women as he began to develop “social isolation and loneliness” and is estimated to have spent £32,988.37.
Bolton Crown Court was told the defendant was treasurer of the church when the offences took place between March 2017 and October 2019.
Prosecutor James Preece said financial irregularities were recognised by an auditor who sent an email alerting the church’s minister.
The minister confronted Muschamp and he immediately confessed, later telling police he had “used the money to speak to women on adult websites.”
Mr Preece said Muschamp had asked other churchgoers to co-sign blank cheques each month after being told they were for “legitimate expenses.”
One parishioner described how the incident made her "feel upset" as "Ian was a friend and someone I thought I could trust.”
The church’s minister said the theft caused "a lot of problems" as plans for future buildings had to be put on hold.
Defending, Kevin Liston, said Muschamp had made an "ill-judged decision" due to suffering from "social isolation and loneliness.”
He said: “He was himself duped by a man calling himself Jessica and was exposed to vulnerability and fraud.
"My client is a lonely man of modest financial means who has been caught up in an unsavoury matter."
Mr Liston also said his client is suffering from bladder cancer.
Sentencing Muschamp, Recorder Paul Taylor said: "There is a saying there is no fool like an old fool and you are living proof of that.
"You were tricked by Jessica, who was in fact a man and who is now under investigation for telling sob stories."
Muschamp was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a six-month curfew.
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