Gift Aid fraudster sentenced to four years in prison

Mark Lewis convicted for 13 fraudulent claims for Gift Aid totalling £855,000 for mountaineering charity, while his wife Elizabeth is found guilty of money laundering

Elizabeth and Mark Lewis
Elizabeth and Mark Lewis

The man at the centre of an attempted Gift Aid fraud of nearly £900,000 has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Mark Lewis, 40, pleaded guilty in June to charges of making a false statement concerning relief from customs duty and three counts of acquiring criminal property.

He attempted to use a charity he set up to help disadvantaged young people, the Welsh Independent School of Climbing and Mountaineering, which was later renamed the MSL Mountaineering Trust, to defraud the taxman of £885,000.

He made 13 fraudulent claims to HM Revenue & Customs between June 2007 and July 2010 for Gift Aid on the basis of donations that had not been made.

His wife, Elizabeth Lewis, 38, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, for assisting him in laundering the proceeds of the fraud.

At the time of the crimes, she was a fraud investigator for the Department for Work and Pensions. She denied the charges but was found guilty at a trial in September.

The couple, from Porth, in Rhondda, were sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on Friday.

They used some of the proceeds from the fraud to buy a house in Stoke, which they renovated and converted into flats for rent, according to a statement from HMRC. They paid a £53,000 deposit on a second house in the town and used the equity to buy their home in Porth.

Mark Lewis also invested considerable sums in a series of failed outdoor activity and construction businesses, said HMRC.

The charity was removed from the register of charities in July 2010 because it had ceased to exist, according to the Charity Commission’s website.

A spokeswoman for the regulator, which began looking into the case before referring it to HMRC, said the commission’s statutory inquiry was continuing.

Colin Spinks, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: "Over a three-year period, Mark Lewis submitted false claims knowing full well that it was an abuse of a scheme designed to help genuine charities in need. When arrested, both he and his wife blamed everyone but themselves. Our investigations proved, however, that the orchestrator was Mark Lewis, and the couple were the only beneficiaries."

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said the case was an example of the commission and HMRC working together to secure convictions.

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