A HUSBAND and wife will be sentenced next month after top chef Stephen Terry was swindled out of £150,000 at his county restaurant.
Chef Simon Nightingale, 50, denied receiving £46,000 of the defrauded cash, but was convicted by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court of acquiring criminal property.
Mother-of-five Nicola Nightingale, who lived with her husband in Church Road, Gilwern, at the time of the fraud, paid herself an “inflated” salary, took out loans in the name of the Hardwick and created fake invoices for companies such as Sage and Flying Fish when she worked there between 2018 and 2020.
She paid £46,741.57 of the cash into her husband’s account, which he was convicted of illegally receiving on Friday after claiming he thought they included his wages from working part-time at the Hardwick.
The duo enjoyed a lavish lifestyle off the proceeds, and some of the transfers to the husband’s account were made while they were enjoying a luxury family holiday at Disney in Florida, the court heard.
Mr Terry, who was Gordon Ramsey’s best man and was taught by Marco Pierre White, has appeared on BBC television show Great British Menu and is a regular on Saturday Morning Kitchen.
He told the court he had struggled to keep his restaurant going as a result of the scam, which ended at the start of the Covid lockdown when Nicola Nightingale resigned.
Mr Terry told the court he trusted her ‘absolutely’ but she could be “aloof and entitled”.
Mr Terry said an expected £38,000 rate rebate turned into a £6,000 bill and he became “suspicious” when Nicola Nightingale told him she needed to take out a loan to keep the restaurant going.
“It was hard for us. I was working 15 hours a day, seven days a week. We were not taking a wage and in dire straits financially,” he said.
“She said she had gambled with the cash flow and instead of paying £4,000 a month in rates, she was only paying £1,000.
“I was shocked, it was quite a big deal so I said I’ll go home and speak to my wife because she will go bonkers. I went home and she did go bonkers.”
Prosecutor Thomas Stanway told the trial Nicola Nightingale “worked there as the office administrator and was responsible for the accounts and finances and this included paying wages to the staff and paying suppliers”.
“Throughout the time that she was there, she fraudulently took money from the restaurant and she paid it into a number of bank accounts in her name and… paid money into her husband’s bank account,” he said.
“She created fake invoices… took out loans in the name of the company and she inflated the pay that she received.”
He said the business bank accounts showed thousands of pounds had been transferred into Nicola Nightingale’s account, transfers into her daughter’s account and into her husband’s account.
Mr Terry later found that two loans had been fraudulently taken out in his name for £40,000 each.
As well as owing business rates, he also learnt that money was owed on PAYE and VAT, while there was a £10,000 shortfall in the pension pot.
On Simon Nightingale, Mr Terry added: “He would come in to help with service for maximum four hours tops.
“We thought Simon was coming in to help us out and doing us a favour.”
But he had a “that’s odd moment” when he spotted the company’s bank account on an app on Mrs Nightingale’s phone.
“I thought that’s strange… I was surprised she would check out my business account on her own personal account.”
When checking CCTV, he also saw Mrs Nightingale leave with a large bag she hadn’t arrived with.
He also then found bogus invoices to firms called Sage and Flying Fish on the bank statements.
“I think it took Nicola about four weeks to start taking money from us from when she started. She didn’t hang about,” he added.
The couple, now of Deal in Kent, will be sentenced on March 17.
Judge Barry Clarke said: “All options remain open to the court including a custodial sentence.”