Three fraudsters who conned a charity and fleeced Sunderland College as part of a sophisticated scam have been ordered to pay back more than £270,000.
Joanne Mounter, 47, and Paula Bolan, 46, abused their positions as Chief Executives of Team Wearside, a charity which assisted jobseekers and offered training opportunities to gain workplace qualifications, to scam subcontractors for money.
They, with the help of training assessor Kym Norman, 54, falsified learning records in order to claim funding from the Skills Funding Agency via Sunderland College and another charity called Springboard over a two-year period.
Together, Mounter and Bolan admitted five counts of fraud and were both jailed for more than four years in March 2018. Norman admitted a one count of fraud and was sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment.
The total value of the trio’s fraudulent activity was in excess of £450,000 and was a contributing factor to Team Wearside having to close its doors, which resulted in the final 23 members of staff losing their jobs.
On Thursday (September 6) the two primary offenders – Mounter and Bolan – were back in court after police launched an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize any assets they might have.
A judge ordered Mounter to pay back £102,800.40 and Bolan £138,138.60 as a result of their crimes. The sum – which will be paid as compensation to Sunderland College and Springboard – must be paid within three months.
On August 2 this year, Norman was also ordered to pay back £29,402.99 for his part in the scam.
Detective Inspector Sally Macdonald, of Northumbria Police, said:
“Mounter and Bolan, assisted by Norman, abused their position of trust within Team Wearside for their own selfish gain.
“This crime had a wide-reaching and damaging impact with many people losing their jobs.
“They were brought to justice for their actions, and this confiscation order gives out a strong message that criminals like these will not benefit from the funds made during their crimes.”
The court was told how a “whistleblower” alerted police to financial irregularities at Team Wearside, and a number of people initially suspected of being involved in the fraudulent activity were suspended in November 2016.
It was later uncovered that, as a result of the trio’s scam, Sunderland College had been duped out of more than £300,000 and training firm Springboard of around £100,000.
In March 2018, Mounter, of Minster Court, Willington, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud and was sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment.
Bolan, of Lonsdale, Birtley, Gateshead, pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and was sentenced to four years and four months behind bars.
Norman, of Stratford Avenue, Grangetown, Sunderland, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and was jailed for two years and four months.
David Barker MBE, Chief Executive of Springboard, welcomed the confiscation order:
“Springboard is a charity which exists to support the development of sustainable communities where people have the support they need for work and life.
“The selfish, short-term gain work which the perpetrators sought has been mitigated by the actions of the court and we welcome their decision.”
Upon sentencing, Ellen Thinnesen, principal and Chief Executive of Sunderland College, said:
“We are deeply disappointed by the actions of individuals we had grown to trust – and who were in an equally trusted position at Team Wearside, a charitable organisation that has done so much good work for the young people of Sunderland and North East at large.
“These were people we had worked with for a number of years, whose work was regularly appraised – as all of our subcontractors work is – but who had, between them, devised a well-orchestrated scheme that sought to purposely deceive and defraud a number of organisations they worked with.
“We are pleased this matter is now resolved and been handled appropriately by the authorities.”