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A Lloyds bank branch sign is seen near St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, July 23, 2010.

ANDREW WINNING/REUTERS

The former head of fraud and security for digital banking at Lloyds Banking Group has been sentenced to five years in jail for defrauding the lender of almost £2.5-million ($4.1-million U.S.) by faking invoices from a supplier.

Jessica Harper, 50, who earned £60,000-£70,000 a year for helping to protect the part-nationalised lender from fraudsters, doctored and falsely created invoices to pay herself £2.46m between December 2007 and December 2011. She gave much of the money away to friends and family to help them buy property.

Ms. Harper, who pleaded guilty to the charges was sentenced to five years for fraud by abuse of position and four years for money laundering, which would be served concurrently. Judge Deborah Taylor said she would serve 2.5 years - half the five-year sentence.

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"You disregarded your duties out of a sense of entitlement to take other people's money for your own benefit and that of your family," said the judge.

If Ms. Harper had not pleaded guilty she would have been sentenced to 7.5 years for fraud and 6 years for money laundering.

The judge said this was a "most serious" case of "high value" banking fraud that had been carried out over a long period. She said Ms. Harper's position at Lloyds was one in which she was "expected to show the highest levels of probity".

The court heard that the fraud took place at a time of considerable upheaval for Lloyds, which was forced into a £21-billion government bailout in 2008.

Antony Swift, prosecuting, said Ms. Harper had told police that given the long hours she was working - typically 5.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. - she "saw the opportunity and thought . . . maybe I deserved it".

She had estimated that she could earn four times her salary at another bank but had felt loyal to Lloyds.

However Mr. Swift, who described the fraud as "entirely cynical", said Ms. Harper "would never have been paid that salary over that period at any other bank".

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Ms. Harper submitted 93 bogus invoices from one supplier, ISB, a software company. When ISB alerted Lloyds that it had received wrong remittance documents, Ms. Harper assured the company's chief executive, Simon Sutcliffe, with whom she had a personal friendship, that the problem had been resolved. Lloyds later discovered the fraud.

The defendant has so far repaid £709,000 of the stolen money to the bank - by cashing in her pension, shares and savings and selling her Croydon home. She is expected to return about a further £1-million when her brothers sell the properties they bought with the fraudulently obtained funds.

Her lawyer, Carol Hawley, said Ms. Harper had not benefited personally from the fraud as she had given away the "overwhelming majority" of funds. "This is not the case of a greedy woman indulging herself in an extravagant lifestyle," she said.

She added that Ms. Harper had a "deep-rooted desire to give", which had led her to have a consultation about a potential personality disorder, although no condition was found.

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