Former Welsh international footballer and five others convicted in £5m apprenticeship scheme fraud
5 February, 2018 | News Releases
Today Keith Williams, Paul Sugrue and former Welsh International Mark Aizlewood were found guilty of a £5m apprenticeship fraud scheme that targeted colleges, charities, football clubs and sports associations.
Additionally, Jack Harper was found guilty of 2 charges linked to attempts to defraud a single college a year later.
The convictions follow guilty pleas by Christopher Martin and Steven Gooding before the start of the trial last year.
Together the men ran Luis Michael Training Ltd which fraudulently obtained around £5m of public funds, earmarked by the Skills Funding Agency to create apprenticeships for vulnerable young people.
Approaching further education colleges as a subcontractor, Luis Michael Training claimed it would provide training services to create football coaching apprenticeships for young people. Instead, the company set about creating a fraudulent scheme.
From its launch in 2009 and throughout its operation Luis Michael Training Ltd provided apprentices with little, if any, of the required training to qualify as football coaches and even signed up ‘ghost learners’, stealing identities to create apprentices out of thin air.
The company took every step to appear legitimate, even obtaining endorsements from former football stars such as Ian Rush, relying on their reputation to convince colleges, football clubs and apprentices that their scheme was genuine.
Thousands of vulnerable young people became victims of the fraud. Cheated out of proper training through the bogus apprenticeship scheme, most never received the qualifications they had signed up for, nor the football coaching jobs promised. Sixth formers on work experience were even co-opted into the scam, tasked with filling out assessment tests in the names of apparent apprentices so Luis Michael Training could show colleges that their ‘students’ were meeting scheme requirements.
SFO Director David Green, QC said:
“These men fraudulently diverted taxpayers’ money away from schemes which were intended to transform young people’s lives. Instead, their apprenticeship programme was a sham.”
Under the Skills Funding Agency apprenticeship scheme, Luis Michael Training would receive payments for apprentices placed with an employer who met the eligibility requirements. The company instead bypassed requirements, forging paperwork and financial statements to siphon off education funding.
Colleges targeted lost more than £3.5m to the fraud, causing serious financial hardship and reducing funding available for other school services, classes and courses.
Nearly 150 football clubs, sports associations, and charities were also tricked into providing services to Luis Michael Training, never receiving payment for work provided, hampering their ability to support grassroots community projects and other outreach programmes.
Following his involvement with Luis Michael Training, Jack Harper, trading as Football Qualifications.com started his own fraudulent scheme and attempted to partner with Liverpool Community College to provide apprenticeship training. Audit checks carried out by the college revealed that the initial cohort of learners was ineligible for apprenticeship funding, with false documents provided to the college to convince them that the learners were in employment.
Sentencing is due to take place on 26 February 2018, at Southwark Crown Court.
Notes to Editors
- The SFO began investigating this case in November 2011, following a referral from Gwent Police. Further information can be found on our website at https://www.sfo.gov.uk/cases/luis-michael-trading-ltd/
- The trial focused on a 16 month period in which Luis Michael Training obtained around £5m of public money by falsely claiming to have delivered apprenticeship training to young people.
- Colleges targeted by the fraudulent apprenticeship scheme were required to repay money received for ineligible learners to the Skills Funding Agency
- On 31st March 2017, Steven Gooding pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977
- On 5th September 2017, Christopher Martin pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977,
- On 5th February 2018:
- Mark Aizlewood was found GUILTY of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contract to the section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977 but NOT GUILTY of the same charge relating to falsified financial accounts.
- Keith Anthony Williams was found GUILTY of 2 counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contract to the section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
- Paul Anthony Sugrue was found GUILTY of 2 counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contract to the section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
- Jack William Harper was found:
- NOT GUILTY of 1 count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
- GUILTY of 1 count of fraud, contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006
- GUILTY of 1 count of using a false instrument, contrary to section 3 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.
- Counsel for the Prosecution:
- Alexandra Healy QC
- Timothy Godfrey
- Natalie McNamee
- Counsel for the Defence:
- For Aizlewood: Nigel Lambert QC, Martin Taylor
- For Martin: Justin Rouse QC, Rhiannon Sadler
- For Williams: Gordon Cole QC, Nicola Daley
- For Sugrue: Gary Bell QC, Alex Stein
- For Harper: Peter Wright QC, Anna Mackenzie
- For Gooding: Christopher Smyth