A pair of former professional footballers have been jailed today for their part in a fraud that duped further education colleges into backing a bogus football coaching apprenticeship scheme.
Former Wales international Mark Aizlewood, 58, and Paul Sugrue, 56 – whose past clubs include Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City – were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London earlier today.
Judge David Tomlinson said the scheme involved “eye-watering sums of government money” under the pretext of helping disadvantaged people. “This was quite simply shameful exploitation,” he said.
The judge added: “There was a serious detrimental effect on colleges of further education.”
Aizlewood, from Aberdare, Mid-Glamorgan, was sentenced to six years, while Sugrue, from Cardiff, was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Earlier this month, Aizlewood and Sugrue, who offered the non-existent apprenticeships through their firm Luis Michael Training Ltd, were among six men found guilty of taking part in a major fraud in which the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) paid out £5 million.
The former footballers, along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, from Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, and Christopher Martin, 53, from Catmore, in West Berkshire, submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm.
Students did not exist
Colleges were told the company would provide full-time training in football coaching as well as work experience and a £95 weekly stipend to 3,800 students working towards an NVQ in activity leadership.
But in reality, hundreds of the students on the firm’s books did not even exist, many lived at the opposite end of the country from the training scheme, while others were doing just two to three hours of study a week.
When the fraud became apparent, the SFA demanded some of the money back that it had paid to colleges for courses.
Mr Williams was sentenced to four years in prison, while Mr Martin was sentenced to five years and three months.
Stephen Gooding, 53, from Bridgwater, Somerset, was sentenced to 20 months in jail.
Some of the bogus students were sourced from a summer football camp run by football coach Jack Harper, 30, from Southport, Merseyside.
Harper, who secretly enrolled students to apprenticeships without their knowledge or consent, was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Gooding and Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation before the start of the trial at Southwark Crown Court last year. Aizlewood, Sugrue, Williams and Harper pleaded not guilty.