A south Wales man has been jailed for four years after pleading guilty to fraudulently claiming £885,000 in gift aid over three years, and his wife has been given a suspended sentence for assisting him.
Mark Lewis, 40 of Cymmer Road, Porth, Rhondda was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court last Friday, having previously admitted to submitting false gift aid claims while he was chief executive of the Welsh Independent School of Climbing and Mountaineering Trust, later renamed the MSL Mountaineering Trust.
His wife, Elizabeth Lewis of the same address, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. She had denied money laundering but was found guilty at a trial in September. At the time of the offences she had been a fraud investigator for the Department for Work and Pensions.
Between June 2007 and July 2010, he submitted 13 gift aid claims, pretending to have received £3m worth of donations, but the charity had not received the donation stated on the claims.
The couple used the proceeds to buy and renovate a house in Stoke, and pay a deposit on a second house. Mark Lewis also invested in failed outdoor-activity and construction businesses.
Colin Spinks, assistant director, criminal investigation at HMRC said: “Over a three-year period Mark Lewis submitted false claims knowing full well that it was an abuse of a scheme designed to help genuine charities in need. When arrested, both he and his wife, blamed everyone but themselves. Our investigations proved, however, that the orchestrator was Mark Lewis, and the couple were the only beneficiaries.”
Charity Commission alerted HMRC
HMRC was alerted to the fraud by the Charity Commission which had carried out is own enquiries and shared its findings with HMRC.
Michelle Russell, head of the investigations unit at the Charity Commission, said: "The Charity Commission was pleased to work jointly with HMRC in this case. This is an excellent example of two government bodies working together to bring those who abuse both charities and the tax system to justice. The Commission provided evidence to HMRC based on its own extensive investigations, which has helped to secure these convictions.”
The charity was removed from the Charity Commission's Register of Charities in 2010.