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Suspend sentence for director who used community sports company for £37,000 fraud

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Michael McCusker was handed a suspended jail sentence

Michael McCusker was handed a suspended jail sentence

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Michael McCusker was handed a suspended jail sentence

The former director of a community-based company whose fraudulent offending caused losses of over £37,000 was handed a suspended jail sentence on Thursday.

Strive NI, a community interest company, was established in December 2013 with the aim of promoting sport and physical activity to excluded groups.

However, the company was desolved in May 2017 following the fraudulent actions of its director, Michael McCusker.

From Brunels View in Dundrum, the father of two was handed a 15-month sentence, which was suspended for three years, by Judge Stephen Fowler QC.

The 43-year appeared at a remote hearing of Belfast Crown Court via his solicitor's office, where he was also banned from operating as a company director for the next five years.

During Thursday's sentencing, it emerged that McCusker was the only active director of Strive, and as the company had other non-executive directors but no employees, he ran it as a 'one-man operation.'

The company's bank account was opened in March 2014 and was closed the following August. During this period, Strive obtained a grant from the Big Lottery Fund and also made use of a £20,000 overdraft.

Judge Fowler said McCusker "fraudulently ran and operated Strike for his own ends" and there was "no evidence" that any of the funds obtained by the company were used for the proposed social purposed.

He added that a vast majority of cash withdrawals made from Strive's bank account were unexplained but "broadly matched" cash deposits made into McCusker's personal bank account.

On September 2, 2014 McCusker, acting on behalf of Strive, applied for £10,000 overdraft facility, and within days he had withdrawn £9980 in cash. He repeated this overdraft fraud three months later.

Other offending included McCusker approaching the Big Lottery Fund for a grant to support a project he called 'Second Chance'. He said the six-month programme would be working with disadvantaged youths in north Belfast, and received a grant of £9640 in September 2014.

In August 2015, the Lottery requested an 'end of grant report' and it later emerged that as none of the grant had been spend on the project objectives, no young person had engaged or been trained.

McCusker also obtained a £4,000 bridging loan from a youth organisation in England which was meant to cover Strive's operational costs and which was paid directly into McCusker's bank account.

McCusker also carried out cheque fraud, and on two occasions in January 2015 cheques were made for payment from Strive's bank account which were purportedly signed by McCusker and a non-executive director - but which were forged signatures.

When some of the non-executive directors discovered the overdraft run up by McCusker, an emergency meeting was scheduled and McCusker was suspended.

He was dismissed during a second meeting, and while Strive was subsequently dissolved in May 2017, McCusker was arrested following a police investigation.

He admitted the Big Lottery Fund grant had not been spend for the purposes specified and that he applied for overdrafts without the knowledge of the other directors.

In total, McCusker pleaded to four counts of fraud by false representation, and three counts of using a false instrument with intent.

Regarding the losses caused by McCusker's actions, the Bank of Ireland sustained a loss of £24,358.63, the Big Lottery lost £9,640 and Youth Charter lost £4,000.

These frauds, Judge Fowler said, were "tainted by breach of trust placed in the defendant as a company director."

Judge Fowler noted that McCusker had no criminal record, has not offending since, and had experienced a "monumental fall from grace."

He said the former company director is now living on benefits with very little prospect of finding employment and "his previous good name and reputation has been destroyed."

The Judge also acknowledged the five-year delay since his admission to the offences, which has had an impact on McCusker's mental health.

After the suspended sentence was imposed, McCusker was warned this may be put into effect if he re-offended over the next three years.

Belfast Telegraph