A charity treasurer who tried to claim more than £330,000 in fraudulent Gift Aid payments to fund lavish holidays has been jailed for three years.
HM Revenue & Customs said Dale Hicks, 35, of Cheadle, Stoke-on-Trent, was given the sentence at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court last week after he pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by false representation and two counts of producing false documents.
Hicks was voluntary treasurer of LifeKeys, a small Christian charity that provides practical support for offenders when they leave prison.
A statement from HMRC said that between July 2014 and December 2016 Hicks successfully claimed more than £270,000 in Gift Aid and attempted to claim a further £62,000 that was withheld after officials began investigations.
HMRC said Hicks spent at least £76,000 of the funds he claimed on cruises and other holidays, including almost £25,000 on the presidential suite on a cruise for him and seven others.
The charity discovered the fraud after large sums started arriving in its account before being moved on.
Hicks lied about the payments but was asked to step down from his role in March 2016, HMRC said.
The department said that after his access to the charity’s bank account was removed, Hicks made two attempts to change the nominated bank account for receiving Gift Aid payments to an account under his control.
During interviews with HMRC, Hicks claimed he had spent the money on good causes – including £10,000 to a local church and £8,000 for humanitarian aid in Romania – and on taking "stressed-out people" for dinner and on holidays.
Diana Cutler, volunteer chief executive of LifeKeys, told Third Sector the fraud had "decimated" the charity, which has no employees.
But she also criticised HMRC for not taking swifter action in the case after she raised concerns about Hicks in April 2016.
She said it was not until Hicks attempted to set up a new bank account to fraudulently claim Gift Aid in the charity’s name in late 2017 that HMRC contacted her for more information about the case.
"How on earth could a tiny charity like ours put in claims for that much money?" she asked.
She said the fallout from the fraud had "practically wiped out the charity".
Nick Stone, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at 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."