AN EAST Lothian Council employee embezzled more than £25,000 from her local authority employers in a scam spanning almost three years.

Maree Smith was employed as a licensing officer with the council for about 23 years before she was caught carrying out the embezzlement scheme she had devised.

Smith, 63, was in charge of managing licences for local taxi companies and began taking the payments from the firms by cash and issuing handwritten receipts.

The council officer had responsibility for more than 11 taxi companies and would meet owners in the reception area of council HQ John Muir House, Haddington, where she would accept cash payments for the yearly licences needed for the firms to operate.

An investigation was opened by the local authority after Smith was signed off on sick leave between June and July last year.

Access to Smith’s computer was granted and council officials soon spotted evidence of cash payments being made and illegitimate receipts being issued.

Evidence that Smith, also known as Maree Winter, had applied to become insolvent in 2020 was discovered during the investigation and it was recorded she had debts totalling £20,000.

The employee was interviewed internally where she denied any knowledge of the scam but eventually disclosed what she had been doing.

Smith, of Orchardfield, East Linton, was arrested on March 31 this year and, during a police interview, she fully admitted to embezzling the large sum of money from East Lothian Council.

Smith appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last month where she pleaded guilty to embezzling £25,587.20 while working as a licensing officer at East Lothian Council, John Muir House, Haddington, between August 10, 2020 and June 21 last year.

Sentence was deferred for background reports and Smith was back in the dock at the capital court last Wednesday.

Sheriff Peter McCormack heard Smith was a first offender and had been struggling with large debts and ill health at the time of the offending.

The court was told she had paid all the money back to the local authority by using funds from her pension.

Sheriff McCormack described the crime as “a serious offence” but said he could deal with the matter by way of an alternative to a custodial sentence.

Smith was placed on a restriction of liberty order where she will have to wear an electronic tagging device on her ankle and stay within her home address between 8pm and 6am for the next 120 days.

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the conclusion of legal proceedings against a former member of staff. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”