Belfast Telegraph

Jail for man who saw the light after £78k church fraud

By Michael Donnelly

An accountant who had what a judge described as a "road to Damascus conversion" and confessed to police that he had defrauded an east Belfast church of more than £78,000 has been jailed for 10 months.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC also told David Goodwin, the former financial officer of the Christian Fellowship Church, his motivation for theft was "for the most venal of reasons", to sustain a lifestyle he became accustomed to and which he thought he was entitled to, but wasn't.

Belfast Crown Court heard the 43-year-old from Holland Park in Belfast had used his charm to effectively con and deceive church members, leaving those who worked closest with him feeling the most betrayed.

Judge Miller revealed Goodwin had come to Belfast from his native Australia with a £135,000 nest egg from his parents, which "he squandered", and that as a result of his two years of fraud a number of church activities had to be closed and staff made redundant.

However, the judge said it was clear Goodwin had made the fullest and frankest admissions to police after undergoing his "road to Damascus conversion", for which he was entitled credit.

Earlier, prosecution lawyer Simon Jenkins said that, before going to police, Goodwin prepared a spreadsheet on his computer detailing his 100 frauds committed over a two-year period from March 1, 2014 to May 13, 2016.

Mr Jenkins said Goodwin told detectives that, prior to becoming the church's financial officer, he had been helping out on a voluntary basis and discovered how easy it was to manipulate the books, and continued to do so.

Defence barrister Conleith Rooney said the father-of-one had come to Belfast with his Northern Ireland-born wife with money given to them to help them buy their first home. But while Goodwin was good at managing the accounts of others, he couldn't manage his own.

Mr Rooney said Goodwin was spending money on a lifestyle beyond his means. After discovering how easy it was to take money from the church, he continued to do so, and what had started out as an opportunist crime took on an element of planning.

However, talks by a one-time criminal about how he found God struck a chord with Goodwin, added the lawyer, and in addition to remorse, the accountant felt the need to go further and repent. Mr Rooney said Goodwin then detailed his frauds on his computer and "essentially walked into a police station with his laptop under his arm and said: 'Look what I have done'."

He added that Goodwin, who will serve an additional 10 months on parole after his release from jail, did so "because he needed to instigate a real change in his life... he was going to repent".

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