Former professionals among group of six men facing jail for £5m sports leadership scam.
Two former footballers are among a group of six men who face prison for scamming £5m from schools and colleges in a bogus sports leadership scheme.
The former Wales international, 57-year-old Mark Aizlewood, and fellow ex-pro, Paul Sugrue, 56, were convicted of fraud on Monday. They were part of a scheme to convince educational institutions to pay for non-existent apprenticeships, Southwark crown court heard.
The group promised to help struggling youngsters gain an NVQ in activity leadership and told colleges they would provide full-time training in football coaching, as well as work experience and a £95 weekly stipend to 3,800 students.
In reality, hundreds of the students on their books did not exist, many lived at the opposite end of the country from the training scheme and others were only doing two or three hours of study a week.
Along with their fellow directors, 45-year-old Keith Williams and 53-year-old Christopher Martin, the men submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with their firm, Luis Michael Training Ltd.
They promised the colleges it was the perfect opportunity for youngsters not in employment, education or training – known as Neets – to gain a qualification.
The company enrolled suitable apprentices to claim money from the colleges, which in turn received funding from the government-run Learning and Skills Council (LSC), later renamed the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).
Some of the students were enrolled without their knowledge after taking part in a summer football camp run by Jack Harper, an employee of Luis Michael Training.
When the scam unravelled, the SFA demanded its money back, leaving large deficits in the budgets of many schools.
Five of the six men were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. Sugrue and Williams were each convicted on two counts, while Martin had already admitted to two. Aizlewood was convicted on one count and acquitted on a second. An employee, Stephen Gooding, pleaded guilty to one.
The sixth man, Harper, was acquitted of one count of the same charge, but convicted of one count each of fraud and using a false instrument.
The judge, Michael Tomlinson, described the case as “very serious” and adjourned sentencing until 26 February.
Aizlewood had denied any wrongdoing and told the jury he had been preoccupied by his late wife’s spiralling mental health problems before her suicide last June. He told the court he had neither the “time or inclination” to carry out such a complex fraud.
The former player, who was capped 39 times for his country and made more than 500 appearances in the football league, described how his wife, Penelope, was suffering from alcohol and drug problems, as well as depression.
“I’m a director of a company, but, and it’s a big but, my main thought pattern was what I have to do – I have to get done quickly and get back because of the situation there,” Aizlewood said.
He continued: “It just made Luis Michael, in many ways, of no significance. I had bigger battles to fight and therefore, yes I had to do my job and do my duties, but I’m not so focused on it.”
His barrister, Nigel Lambert QC, said: “The allegation is you were involved in a criminal conspiracy during this time and I just want to ask; what really was your mental attitude of that time, what really you were focusing on?”
Aizlewood replied: “On my family. A, I didn’t have the inclination and B, I didn’t have the time.”