The £5m apprenticeship fraud run by former footballers Aizlewood and Sugrue
Former professional footballers Mark Aizlewood and Paul Sugrue promised football apprenticeships which did not exist.
Disgraced ex-footballers Mark Aizlewood and Paul Sugrue embezzled £5 million of public money reserved to train vulnerable young people.
The pair, who have been found guilty of fraud, ran a company which claimed to provide apprenticeships in football coaching which they claimed included training, work experience and payment of £95 per week.
In total, the scheme took £5 million of money from the government-run Skills Funding Agency, set up to train young people.
Aizlewood, 56, a former Wales international, and Sugrue, 57, who played for clubs including Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City, ran the scheme through a business, Luis Michael Training Ltd (LMT).
The pair, along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53, submitted false documents to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm – a provider of football-based apprenticeship schemes for young people.
They used endorsements from former footballer Ian Rush and references to professional football clubs on leaflets to make the company appear legitimate.
Other defendants Stephen Gooding, 53, and Jack Harper, 30, helped to find learners for the fake scheme.
Gooding and Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation before the start of the trial last year. Aizlewood, Sugrue, Williams and Harper pleaded not guilty.
The group told young people from disadvantaged areas, many of whom were “NEETs”, or not in education, employment or training, that they would be earning £95 a week while studying for an NVQ in Activity Leadership.
Apprenticeships were supposed to have at least 30 hours of teaching each week. Most students on courses with Luis Michael Training Ltd received two to three hours.
Many of the 3,000 students enrolled were “ghost learners” who were signed up without their knowledge and never attended a single class.
Some of these bogus students were sourced from a summer football camp run by Harper, who signed up students to apprenticeships without their knowledge or consent, said the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Luis Michael Training allegedly forged the paperwork necessary to receive funding, including maths and English papers supposedly sat by apprentices.
The group made a group of sixth form students on work experience complete the exams, telling them they were practice papers, according to the SFO.
When the scam unravelled, the Skills Funding Agency demanded some of the money back that it had paid to colleges for courses.
Schools and colleges had to return £3.5 million, leaving some unable to provide other school services.
The apprenticeships also included work placements, which LMT had promised would be with professional football clubs.
Instead of assisting with coaching, they did menial tasks like handing out programmes on match day and cleaning offices, according to the SFO.
Apprentices were not paid the promised £95 a week. Some were not paid at all, whereas others got just £10 a week.
This left some students struggling to pay for basic needs like food.
The SFO said the £5 million they defrauded from schools and colleges was spent on Range Rovers, shopping trips to Harrods and holidays to Paris.
The jury spent five months looking over 237,000 pages of evidence and hearing from 61 witnesses.
Sentencing of the six men will take place on February 26 at Southwark Crown Court, London.