NI vet scammed thousands from pet insurers while battling gambling addiction

NI vet scammed thousands from pet insurers while battling gambling addiction

A Northern Ireland vet who created accounts for fake pets as part of an insurance scam has been found guilty of dishonest conduct at a RCVS misconduct hearing.

Donal Johnston created “entirely fictitious” accounts for cats and dogs at Banbridge Vet Pets.

At the hearing, he admitted the charges of dishonest conduct and fraud through false insurance claims, claiming he was battling a gambling addiction at the time.

Mr Johnston invented accounts for dogs named Bruce and Sophie, which didn’t exist and also arranged for insurance money to be paid into a bank account he owned when he set up insurance for a receptionist’s cat and dog, Angelo and Bruce.

The practice manager uncovered his fraud and after being confronted, Mr Johnston said: “You’re probably talking about the insurance claims?”

Mr Johnston, who had worked for the County Down practice for two years, was fired when his fraud came to light.

The hearing was told he created three “sophisticated” fake clinical records for Sophie the dog, who didn’t exist.

Between October 2013 and April 2019, he claimed a total of £7,073 from insurers and even forged the signature of another vet at the practice. Records for Bruce, the fake dog, were created in April 2019, and Mr Johnston claimed £5,370 for his treatment and forged a colleague’s signature on all of these.

In March 2019, Jacqueline McMillan, a receptionist at the practice, brought her domestic longhair cat, Angelo, to Mr Johnston because he had been feeling lethargic and had vomited.

She asked Mr Johnston to treat him and left him to make an insurance claim on her behalf.

Ms McMillan also brought her dog, Boss, in for treatment and again let Mr Johnston do her insurance claim, the hearing heard.

This came to a total of £770, but he told the insurers to send the money to a separate account he had set up called Banbridge Better Pets.

On April 29, 2019, two partners at the practice noticed Mr Johnston had records for his pets, but they were confused as they weren’t aware he had any.

The hearing was told they cross-referenced the records and found no mention of his dogs ever being seen at the practice.

They then asked the female vet whose signature appeared about it, and she confirmed she it had been forged, and she hadn’t treated the pets.

Mr Johnston’s bosses  told the hearing he “looked embarrassed” and admitted making the false claims when confronted.

He was then fired from the practice and reported for dishonest conduct and fraud, amounting to £13,214.

Mr Johnston admitted all charges, telling the hearing: “My conduct was a serious deviation from the principles of honesty and integrity.

“I accept that I was in breach of client confidentiality and trust as I failed to certify facts honestly and with due care.”

The hearing said: “The conduct was repeated, sophisticated and premeditated…it resulted in significant financial gain.

“His conduct jeopardised the position and reputation of his colleagues and undermined public trust in the profession.”

The hearing also heard he was suffering from a recognisable psychiatric compulsive addiction… and that the fraudulent attempts to obtain funds with which to gamble would not have occurred but for this psychiatric condition.

On 1 November Mr Johnston’s sanction was postponed for two years.