An Edinburgh financial adviser embezzled £170,000 from an elderly Scottish widow who was battling dementia by charging her up to £1,000 a day to read her bank statements.
Gordon Couch, 57, has admitted collecting a £197-an-hour fee from the vulnerable Marjorie Stewart in the years before her death at the age of 91.
The scammer claimed the retired math teacher knew he was charging her huge sums, adding that she considered it ‘good value for money’.
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Couch continued to harass Marjorie for reading the letter at her bedside in an Edinburgh nursing home when doctors said she was no longer able to understand it.
But on Thursday a jury unanimously found him guilty of defrauding Marjorie’s fortune while he held power of attorney over her and acted as executor of her estate.
Couch’s ex-wife Kerry earlier testified against him during his trial at Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court, calling him a ‘compulsive liar’, reports the To registerD.
Debt-ridden Couch took the witness stand and claimed it was Marjorie’s wish that he be paid huge sums for simple tasks.
The father-of-two told how he charged her to check the heating in her flat and pocketed a fee to visit her in hospital.
The shameless thief claimed the frail pensioner used ‘40%’ of her time as a financial adviser, despite only holding a basic portfolio of stocks and premium bonds.
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The court heard Couch lied in court papers after Marjorie’s death in 2013, claiming she still had £75,000 in assets when he emptied almost everything into his own bank account.
When beneficiaries of her will, including relatives and charities, began asking questions about their bequests, Couch fled to Hong Kong.
The jury heard that Couch took a job in finance there as “the net was closing”, taking his family abroad under false pretences.
His ex-wife described how their marriage was falling apart and she returned to Scotland with their children while Couch remained in Asia.
But as Marjorie’s relatives chased her for answers over the missing money, Kerry, 53, reported Couch to the cops after learning he had joined an online dating service.
Police boarded a flight landing at Heathrow Airport to arrest Couch in 2019 after he returned to the UK for a business conference.
The court heard Marjorie grew up in Aberdeenshire before moving to Kenya with her husband where they lived for four decades.
The couple, who had no children, moved back to Edinburgh before her husband’s death in 1998 and they employed Couch as an independent financial adviser.
Giving evidence, Couch told how he switched his Edinburgh-based business, called Utopia Financial Planning, from a commission-based service to a fee-based service instead in 2007.
Working with 80 clients, he said Marjorie had freely subscribed to his highest fee tier – his £5,000-a-year “world-class” package – which included four annual meetings with him to offer him financial advice.
Brazen Couch – who had personal debts of £117,000 in 2008 when he entered into a debt management plan – described being charged an ‘hourly rate’ of £197 for work on the accounts.
He told the court: “Marjorie would contact me and say, Gordon, I have a bank statement. Can you drop by and discuss it?
“I was there two or three times a week. We were discussing his investment statements, his bank statement. If she received letters, she wanted to talk.
Couch said he would sometimes be at Marjorie’s until four o’clock, charging her £788 plus an additional £197 to cover her one-hour return journey.
Tax MP Jack Caster, prosecuting, asked Couch whether ‘charging £1,000 to read a simple bank statement for four hours was good value for money’.
Couch, who said his victim “absolutely” knew what she was doing, replied: “Marjorie seemed to think it was good value for money.”
He claimed she was still ‘sharp’ in the months before she was hospitalized after a fall in January 2012. Marjorie suffered from heart disease and ‘cognitive impairment’ and spent the next 18 months in care before her death.
A doctor ruled Marjorie was ‘unable’ to make financial decisions due to dementia and Couch was granted power of attorney over her affairs.
Mr Caster said Couch transferred £60,000 in 2012 from Marjorie’s bank account to his personal for ‘visiting an old lady in hospital to read bank statements’ which she could not understand. The prosecutor added, “You absolutely rinse her off.”
Couch, who could withdraw money from Marjorie’s account himself, said: ‘She wanted me to be reimbursed for my time and effort.
“Why wouldn’t I charge for my time? Marjorie used 40% of my company’s assets in terms of time and was billed accordingly.
Couch, from Penicuik, Midlothian, even charged Marjorie to drive to her flat in the Barnton area to put every bill in a file while she was in hospital and would never return home.
He charged for checking his apartment and sending in his housing association dues, but claimed he hadn’t charged for hosting his 90th birthday party.
The court heard that £195,538 was transferred from Marjorie’s account to her couch between April 2009 and May 2015, with only a small sum being sent the other way.
He cashed in his stocks, national savings certificates and premium bonds, with the money eventually transferred to him.
Mr Caster asked if Marjorie was ‘happy’ that some £200,000 of assets entrusted to her to help her grow had fallen to around £5,000 by the time of her death in September 2013, almost solely due to of its “expenses”.
Couch said, “She got what she wanted.”
Mr Caster said: “You have come across a golden goose. You took all his money while you were in full control.
Couch replied, “I charged fees and expenses.”
As executor of his estate, Mr Caster said Couch had carried out a ‘cover-up’, lying about how much Marjorie had left in court documents. Couch claimed it was a “mistake”.
He added that his “files” on Marjorie’s account would have proven his innocence, but they were lost after he stopped subscribing to a cloud-based server where they were kept.
His ex-wife recounted how she received a letter from Marjorie’s relatives in February 2016 alleging the cash went missing shortly after discovering Couch was on a dating app and “messing around”.
Before reporting the matter to the police, Kerry emailed Couch saying, “Shame on you. Marjorie dies and a few months later you dream of a job in Hong Kong” and “Did you really think you would get away with it?
She described calling Couch in Hong Kong demanding answers and her ex-husband told her, “You know what I did with the money.”
Couch was found guilty of embezzling around £170,000 between April 2009 and May 2015.
Sheriff Kenneth Campbell QC postponed his sentence for reports until next month and continued his bail