‘Ghost learner’ football scammers jailed for over 25 years combined

‘Ghost learner’ football scammers jailed for over 25 years combined

Two former professional footballers and four of their colleagues have been sentenced to a total of over 25 years in prison for defrauding colleges out of £5 million in apprenticeship funding.

Mark Aizlewood (pictured right), who played for Wales 39 times in the 1980s and 1990s, and Paul Sugrue (pictured left), who played for clubs including Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City, were both sentenced this afternoon at Southwark Crown Court for their part in a scam which involved “ghost learners”.

Two of their former colleagues at the now-defunct provider Luis Michael Training, Keith Williams, 45, from Anglesey, and Jack Harper, 30, from Southport, were also sentenced after being found guilty earlier this month.

Two more men who were also involved in the con, Christopher Martin, 53, from Newbury, and Steven Gooding, 53, from Bridgwater, had pleaded guilty before the trial began in September and were also sentenced today.

This marks the end of a five month trial that was brought to court by the Serious Fraud Office.

This was a shameful exploitation of taxpayers and colleges

Luis Michael Training used its well-known footballing names to defraud the taxpayer between 2009 and 2011 by persuading nine colleges to use it as a subcontractor, using cash they got from the government to deliver apprenticeships.

The provider hoodwinked over 3,000 learners over this period, all aged between 16 and 19. Some were “ghost learners” – where the personal information of real people was used to claim apprenticeship funding. The use of their data was unbeknown to these ghosts.

Those actually enrolled were under the illusion that they were doing an apprenticeship in NVQ activity leadership, which would lead them to a career in football coaching.

Sentencing the men, Judge Tomlinson said this was a “shameful exploitation” of taxpayers and colleges.

“You misappropriated eye-watering sums of government money on the pretence of helping disadvantaged young people,” he added. “You all exploited this sad state of affairs and your involvement was dishonest from the outset.”

Using this lure of a career in football coaching, LMT even employed other high-profile former players, such as Welsh international Neville Southall, the Republic of Ireland’s Alan McLoughlin and Manchester United player Russell Beardsmore, as tutors to deliver some of the training, albeit unaware of the con.

The provider also used almost 150 professional and semi-professional football clubs as part of the scam, roping in big teams like Manchester City, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.

“These men stole public money intended to give young people a start in life – these were cynical crimes for which they have been held to account today,” said the Serious Fraud Office’s general counsel Alun Milford.

Mark Aizlewood was sentenced to six years.

Christopher Martin was sentenced to two years and three months, and five years and three months, to be served concurrently.

Keith Williams was sentenced to three and four years’ imprisonment, to be served concurrently.

Paul Sugrue was sentenced to three and seven years’ imprisonment, to be served concurrently.

Steven Gooding received a 20-month prison sentence.

Jack Harper received two 18-month sentences, to be served concurrently.

Jack Harper and Steven Gooding were also disqualified as directors for seven years each.