May 21 2013 Latest news:
Colin Grainger, The Editor
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Boss used ‘ghost staff’ to fund jaunts abroad
A Youth Offending Team boss who used Newham Council cash to fund a series of jaunts to Canada faces jail for masterminding a plot to steal £200,000 from the taxpayer.
Peter Nicholson, OBE, 58, led a gang of fraudsters who claimed wages for bogus employees at Newham Council.
Nicholson arranged trips to Canada for himself and his relatives, all paid for by the local authority.
On one occasion, he and 10 others enjoyed a holiday in Calgary worth £4,000 in February 2005, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.
Nicholson claimed he was ‘rewarded’ with a 10-day trip to Canada from the council, after being made an OBE.
But investigators rejected Nicholson’s claims as the trip was booked before the New Year’s Honours List was announced.
He had previously booked a nine-day trip to Calgary for himself and his daughter using council funds in 2002.
The con took place while Nicholson was head of the Youth Offending Team at Newham Council between May 20, 2000 and August 31, 2007.
His duties involved co-ordinating efforts to rehabilitate young people who committed crimes.
He was found guilty of five counts of conspiracy to defraud after a two month trial.
Nicholson authorised three ‘ghost employees’ to be paid by the local authority when they did not exist, as a way of siphoning off the cash.
The payments were organised by Nicholson’s finance officer, Shirin Bazrcar, 51, the manager of staffing agency Excel Employment, who received £64,000 in payments.
Bazrcar’s firm hired David Tuck, 52, who ran Lads Construction Ltd and was paid thousands of pounds by the council for non-existent building projects.
Bazrcar was found guilty of four counts of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering.
Tuck was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to defraud and one count of money laundering.
Nicholson, Bazrcar and Tuck were bailed ahead of sentence on July 6.
Nicholson’s sister-in-law, Kerry Butler, 46, was found not guilty of one count of money laundering. The jury failed to reach a verdict in respect of a charge of conspiracy to defraud.
She will learn whether or not she will face a retrial on July 2.
Earlier Nicholson’s ex-wife Sheila Butler, 55, had been cleared of involvement in the scam on the judge’s direction.
Prosecutor Alexander Goudie said the total amount stolen from the taxpayer was in the region of £200,000.
He told the jury: “The case involves various allegations of fraud being perpetrated against the London Borough of Newham by former employees.”
“Firstly the payment of wages to people who never actually worked at the local authority and in some cases didn’t even exist - we call them ghost employees.”
“The second part relates to trips abroad that were paid for by the London Borough of Newham.”
“Peter Nicholson is the former head of the Youth Offending Team and the ex-partner of Sheila Butler.”
“He was involved in the bulk of the frauds including falsely employing David Tuck and three other individuals, who we say did no work at all for the council.”
“He failed to declare his partner’s sister (Kerry Butler) was running Capability Employment, an agency that provided a large number of employees to Newham Borough Council.”
“He was directly related to fraudulent payments and he used London Borough of Newham resources to fund trips abroad for himself and his family.”
Nicholson forged employment records for fictional staff members including ‘youth workers’ Sharon Browne and Alex Brown.
Both were apparently employed through Capability but no workers at the Youth Offending Team can recall having met them.
Ms Browne’s details, found at the home of Sheila Butler, included a fake address and National Insurance number handwritten by Nicholson.
The address given for Mr Brown was actually registered in the name of Nushan Mostani - Bazrcar’s sister.
Bazrcar received £64,000 in payments on Mr Brown’s behalf via a bank account belonging to her 16-year-old son Ali, the court heard.
Nicholson,from Bexleyheath, denied misconduct in a public office and five counts of conspiracy to defraud.
Judge Neil Sanders directed a not guilty verdict against Nicholson on the misconduct offence after he was convicted of the fraud charges.
Bazrcar, from Hook, Hampshire, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to defraud and one of money laundering.
David Tuck, from Bexley, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to defraud and one of money laundering.
His wife Lorna Tuck, 45, of the same address, was cleared of two counts of conspiracy to defraud.
Christopher Smith, 48, from Erith, Kent, was cleared of a single count of conspiracy to defraud.
Earlier Judge Sanders had directed the jury to clear Sheila Butler from Abbey Wood, of conspiracy to defraud.
Kerry Butler from Erith, Kent, continues to deny conspiracy to defraud.