THEFTS of cookers from Leamington-based Aga Rangemaster were uncovered after a local farmer spotted suspicious activity in a layby near his farm.
And following both internal and police investigations, Liam McMahon and Gary Thorn were among five men arrested and charged with conspiracy to steal from the company.
They denied that charge, but as their trial was about to begin at Warwick Crown Court, McMahon pleaded guilty to the theft of two cookers and Thorn admitted receiving them to sell on eBay.
Both men were sentenced to nine months in prison suspended for 12 months and ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work.
Thorn, 48, of Church End, Ansley Nuneaton, was also ordered to pay £645 compensation and £100 costs, while McMahon, 50, of Yarningale Road, Coventry, was ordered to pay £300 compensation and £50 costs.
Prosecutor Sophie Murray said McMahon had worked for Rangemaster, which sells its products all over the world, for over ten years at the time of the thefts.
In September 2016 a farmer alerted the company to suspicious activity in a layby near his farm, where an oven was being transferred from one of their vehicles into a white van.
There was an internal investigation during which tracker devices showed a number of Aga Rangemaster vehicles, including that one driven by McMahon, had made unscheduled stops in the same layby.
It was then noticed that Aga Rangemaster products were being sold on an e-Bay site at well below their market value.
So a test purchase was carried out which revealed the firm’s stock location system had been manipulated to cover up missing stock.
As a result, it was originally alleged the two men had been part of a wider conspiracy to steal up to 60 cookers worth tens of thousands of pounds.
But their pleas of guilty to the less serious offences they admitted were accepted after the court heard there was no evidence to link them to more than two cookers.
And the prosecution offered no evidence against any of the five men on the conspiracy charge, which the other three had also denied.
Although Thorn’s e-Bay account showed he had sold a number of cookers, the majority of them must have been legitimate, said Miss Murray.
Andrew Copeland, for Thorn, said: “He is a good family man who has let himself down and let his family down. But we are talking about two cookers, not a conspiracy.
Sarah Allen, for McMahon, said: “He has lost good employment as a result, and it has been a real strain on him. He’s someone who has never been in trouble before.”
Sentencing the two men, Judge Anthony Potter told them: “I bear in mind the allegations made against you and others was far greater at the start of this case, and I am not sentencing you for conspiracy, but for the occasion when you fell to temptation.”