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West Belfast charity distances itself from convicted fraudster acting as ‘ambassador’

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Michael McCusker.

Michael McCusker.

Michael McCusker.

A mental health charity has distanced itself from a convicted fraudster who has been acting as its “ambassador”.

West Wellbeing Forum, which recently won the support of Olympic medallist Michael Conlan, said it had no idea Michael McCusker was in court in July 2020 for stealing £37,000 worth of aid donations and bank loans.

The thieving 45-year-old, from Newtownabbey, was pictured late last month with the boxer at the group’s headquarters in the Dairy Farm complex in west Belfast.

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Michael McCusker pictured at the West Belfast Sports Wellbeing Forum alongside boxer Michael Conlan.

Michael McCusker pictured at the West Belfast Sports Wellbeing Forum alongside boxer Michael Conlan.

Michael McCusker pictured at the West Belfast Sports Wellbeing Forum alongside boxer Michael Conlan.

Disgraced McCusker’s role with West Wellbeing Forum has raised concerns within the public funding sector, with sources warning it could wreck its future grant applications.

But the charity’s co-founder Desy Jones told Sunday Life he had no clue about the conman’s shameful past and has distanced the organisation from him.

He said: “Michael McCusker is nothing to do with us or our organisation. He was one of our ambassadors when we started up — we had a couple of local people as ambassadors to help us get up and running — but no, he is not part of the organisation.

“I didn’t even realise he was in the photo. He was up visiting another fella here who is a friend of his.” When provided with the details of McCusker’s fraud, a clearly shocked Desy said: “This is news to me, what you’re telling me. Wow.”

Sources who tipped off Sunday Life about McCusker say he has been playing the “victim card” since his fraud conviction, for which he had a 15-month prison sentence suspended for two years.

“He has told people he was in a dark place when he was stealing the money. He has been playing the victim card and is now saying he is a reformed character,” said a charity boss.

“The truth is McCusker is a weasel and is hated by a lot of people in west Belfast. It’s good that West Wellbeing Forum has cut him loose because there is no way a charity in which a convicted fraudster is involved is going to get a penny of public money.”

McCusker used Strive NI, a community interest company set up in 2013, as a means to rip off funders. He was the only active director, with a court hearing how he ran it as a “one-man operation”.

Strive NI was supposed to be helping disadvantaged youths in deprived parts of Belfast and was awarded around £15,000 by the Big Lottery and Youth Charter funds. It brought in another £24,000 in loans from the Bank of Ireland.

But instead of using the cash to help at-risk children, McCusker was transferring it to his own account.

Strive NI was dissolved in 2017 when the criminal’s offending came to light.

McCusker ended up pleading guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 15 months in prison suspended for two years. He was also banned from being a company director for five years.

Condemning McCusker’s behaviour, Judge Fowler said he “fraudulently ran and operated Strike NI for his own ends” and there was “no evidence” that any of the funds obtained by the company were used for the proposed social purpose.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk


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