Crooked bookkeeper jailed for £1 million pharmacy fraud

Darren Mackenzie worked for his friend Max Punni’s chain of pharmacies when he used the company’s money to fund his extravagant lifestyle.

Taunton Crown Court stock
Taunton Crown Court stock

A bookkeeper who stole more than £1.3 million from his friend and employer and spent it on luxury holidays, designer goods and home renovations has been jailed for nearly six years, police said.

Darren Mackenzie worked for his friend Max Punni’s chain of pharmacies when he used the company’s money to fund his extravagant lifestyle.

The 41-year-old, of Fownes Road, Minehead, Somerset, was jailed for five years and eight months at Taunton Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position of trust.

Darren Mackenzie defrauded his friend and employer of over £1 million and bought designer clothes, shoes and jewellery (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Darren Mackenzie defrauded his friend and employer of over £1 million and bought designer clothes, shoes and jewellery (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

The deception was discovered when a fellow employee came across invoices relating to Mackenzie’s three-bed home.

When fraud investigators began looking into both his and the company’s finances, they found he had not only paid for construction and interior design work at his house using company accounts but had also transferred money directly into his personal accounts and even given himself an unsanctioned pay rise.

Detectives analysed more than seven years of banking records and established Mackenzie had used the money to:

– fund construction work and home renovations of more than £300,000 which included almost £80,000 on specialist carpentry, £50,000 on a kitchen and £10,000 on a sound system.

– pay for luxury holidays in destinations such as New York and Las Vegas.

– cover the cost of stays at five-star hotels in London including The Savoy, The Ritz and The Dorchester.

– fund shopping trips at Harrods and Fortnum and Mason

– buy dozens of expensive watches including Rolex and Tag Heuer

– purchase designer clothes, luggage and homeware including Versace clothes and Luis Vuitton luggage.

Mackenzie will now face Proceeds of Crime proceedings to recover the money (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Mackenzie will face Proceeds of Crime proceedings to recover the money (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Mr Punni said Mackenzie’s crimes put his businesses at risk and jeopardised health provision for people who relied on the service.

“We have sustained a financial loss of more than £1 million, so one outrageous individual could live a fantasy lifestyle with utter disregard to the consequences,” he said.

“This has required me, as the owner, to cut staffing hours, not be paid any dividend for more than two years, double my working hours to reduce staffing costs – frequently working 16-hour days – and averaging 80-hour weeks per week, working seven days a week.

“Nobody could have anticipated the Covid-19 pandemic, and this almost pushed us over the edge as it emerged during our darkest hour.

“As a direct result, I have not been able to settle down and start a family of my own and have had to double my efforts and commitment to remaining alive and continuing healthcare provision.

“It is no exaggeration that I have endured personal misery and suffering and continue to do so to this day.

“Every day I awake at 4am with cold sweat, paralysed with fear. Fortunately, my faith and meditation practices mean I am able to cope.

“I am no superman and feel I had no choice but to strive beyond my previously perceived limits and what I regarded to be humanly possible to protect my family, staff and several thousand patients we serve.”

The crooked bookeeper was sentenced to over five years' imprisonment (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
The crooked bookkeeper was sentenced to over five years’ imprisonment (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Mackenzie will face proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act where investigators will attempt to recover the money.

Detective Sergeant Louise Sinclair, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “The extent of Darren Mackenzie’s deceit was astonishing.

“His behaviour was a terrible betrayal of not just his employer but of someone who considered him a good friend.

“While he was living it up, splashing the cash on luxury goods and holidays, two of his colleagues sacrificed a combined £200,000 of pay as they thought the business was struggling financially.

“He only owned up to his fraud after Mr Punni personally looked into the accounts and even then, he only made partial admissions.

“Meanwhile, Mackenzie now has a significant time behind bars to reflect on his actions.”

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