A church leader who lied about charity donations to fraudulently claim £155,840 in Gift Aid repayments has been jailed for four years.
Teslim Johnson, 39, from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, used his position as a preacher and trustee at Agape Church in Luton, Bedfordshire, to steal the funds.
As a registered charity, the church could claim Gift Aid on donations. But in 2016 HM Revenue & Customs officers contacted donors listed on the charity’s records after they became suspicious of a series of claims.
They found that most of the donations had not been made and many alleged donors had never heard of the church.
Johnson, who was the only person named on the church’s bank accounts, was able to divert money from these fraudulent claims into his personal bank account.
Gift Aid envelopes were found during a search of Johnson's property, but donor names and amounts did not match Gift Aid records submitted to HMRC.
He received repayments of £103,154 and attempted to claim a further £52,686, bringing the total value of the fraud to £155,840.
Mark Cox, assistant director of fraud investigation service at HMRC, said: "Johnson thought his position in society would put him above scrutiny, but if you break the law HMRC will investigate.
"This is not a victimless crime. It is stealing from honest UK taxpayers' money needed to fund vital public services in the UK."
Johnson was found guilty of fraud by abuse of position and money laundering at Luton Crown Court last week.
HMRC has started the process to recover the criminal proceeds.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "We are appalled by this abuse of position, which undermines public trust and confidence in charity.
"The commission has been in regular contact with HMRC during its investigation and subsequent prosecution of Mr Johnson. The charity has been removed from the register and Mr Johnson is now disqualified from serving as a charity trustee."
The spokeswoman added that the charity applied for dissolution in October last year and "we removed it from the register as it was no longer operating".