A charity treasurer who stole more than £270,000 in a Gift Aid repayment fraud and went on luxury holidays has been jailed for three years.
An HM Revenue and Customs investigation found that 35-year-old Dale Hicks of Cheadle, Stoke-on-Trent, abused his position at Staffordshire-based charity Life Keys by lodging a string of false claims.
Hicks, who is unemployed, claimed more than £270,000 on behalf of the ex-offenders charity between 2014 and 2016, with a further £62,000 withheld whilst investigations were carried out.
He diverted the money into his own bank account, spending at least £76,000 on cruises and other holidays which he posted about on social media.
HMRC said the charity was unaware of Hicks’ activity and only became suspicious when large sums started arriving into the accounts, before they were moved on. Hicks lied about the payments but was asked to step down from his voluntary role in March 2016.
Hicks was jailed for three years on 31 May at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court. He pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by false representation and two charges of producing false documents at the same court hearing.
Nick Stone, assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “This was not a momentary lapse. This was persistent, it was calculated and it was despicable. He betrayed the trust of colleagues at a genuine charity that was trying to help criminals turn their lives around.
“Dale Hicks spent this stolen money on himself and booked a string of luxury holidays that most hardworking people could only dream of. The taxpayer paid for these extravagant holidays, and he posted about them on social media.
“I urge anybody who knows of anyone committing any type of tax fraud to report them to HMRC online, or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
The Charity Commission said it opened a regulatory compliance case into the charity after its trustees submitted a serious incident report.
It said that as part of its compliance case the regulator provided advice to the trustees on strengthening the charity's financial controls to protect it from further undue risk.
Hicks is now disqualified from serving as a trustee or holding any senior management position at a charity in England and Wales.
A spokesperson for the Commission said: “This case involved a cynical abuse of charity and we welcome the conviction. We cooperated closely with HMRC to support their investigation.
"Charities exist to improve lives and strengthen society; any abuse of this kind has no place in charity, letting down people in need and undermining public trust. It is right that this individual has been held to account for his actions."
‘Robin Hood figure’
HMRC began its investigation in 2017 and discovered the amount Hicks falsely claimed would have required £1.3m in legitimate donations, but the charity’s accounts showed nowhere near that amount had been deposited.
Hicks made false claims in the name of the charity’s chief executive, which were 30 times higher than the donations that had actually been made.
When the banking access was removed, he made two attempts to change the charity’s nominated bank account into an account under his control.
During interviews, Hicks claimed he had spent the money on good causes, including £10,000 handed to a local church and £8,000 for humanitarian aid in Romania. He also claimed that he spent the money taking “stressed out people” for dinner and on holidays.
Checks on his bank accounts proved that he spent £76,872 with just one travel firm. There was also further payments made directly to airlines and cruise companies.
In jailing him for three years, the honorary recorder of Stoke-on-Trent, Judge Paul Glenn said: “You are very generous with money that is not yours to spend. You fobbed people off and you lied to cover your tracks.
“You continue to paint yourself as a latter day Robin Hood kind of figure. I reject the contention that you received no monetary benefit. This is a very significant breach of trust and it’s blindingly obvious that significant amounts related to holidays.
“The victims here are taxpayers and a number of deserving causes have been potentially deprived of funds because of your actions.”