Charity treasurer jailed for £330K gift aid fraud

A charity treasurer who tried to steal more than £330,000 in a gift aid repayment fraud has been jailed for three years, after a court heard he spent thousands of pounds on luxury holidays for himself and others

Dale Hicks, from Cheadle, Stoke-on-Trent, abused his position at a Staffordshire based ex-offenders charity by lodging a string of false claims, an HMRC investigation found.

The claims were made on behalf of the Life Keys (LK) charity, which was set up inside a Midland prison in 2009 to rehabilitate ex-offenders.

Hicks, who is unemployed, made the claims between 2014 and 2016. He diverted the money into his own bank account, spending some of the proceeds on luxury holidays.

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.

HMRC launched an investigation in 2017 and discovered the amount falsely claimed would have required £1.3m in legitimate donations. But the charity’s bank accounts showed nowhere near those amounts had been deposited.

Hicks even 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.

Hicks claimed more than £270,000 but the remaining £62,000 was withheld whilst investigations were carried out.

Checks on his bank accounts proved that he spent £76,872 with just one travel firm, with further payments made directly to airlines and cruise companies. The money was spent on cruises and other holidays, with Hicks posting about many of the trips on social media and uploaded a video diary of his far-flung travels, which included virtual video tours of presidential suites, access to exclusive lounges and meals at the captain’s table.

Hicks spent £24,854 on just one cruise after booking himself and seven other people into the presidential suite on a 10-day tour in October 2016. Earlier in the same year he also spent nearly £6,000 on a tour of China and nearly £1,500 on an exclusive lodge at Center Parcs.

Hicks was jailed for three years on 31 May 2019 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, fraud investigation service, HMRC, 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.’

Pat Sweet

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