Rugby official’s £180k fraud fed £378k gambling addiction

A rugby official who ran up huge gambling debts has been jailed for more than three years after stealing almost £180,000 to feed his addiction.

Trevor Lee, 56, took the money from two organizations he worked for, including the Norfolk Rugby Union Referees Society (NRURS), of which he was treasurer.

Diss Mercury: Rugby

His deception was discovered when the group’s new chairman Graham Smith, a former police inspector, asked to be added as a signatory on the club accounts and found they contained only 65p, rather than the expected £24,000.

Mr. Smith challenged Lee over the missing money at a society meeting, before calling the police.

He also tipped off Lee’s employer, a fish merchants called Salire Ltd, as the firm was a sponsor of the club.

Further investigations found that Lee had also defrauded thousands of pounds from the company.

Norwich Crown Court heard that Lee had lost a total of £378,661 through gambling over the course of a decade.

Diss Mercury: Norwich Crown Court.  Picture Adrian Judd.

To fund his habit and pay off his mortgage, he took £80,095.99 from the NRURS between January 2010 and October 2019, by merging its funds with his personal accounts, writing false checks to temporarily inflate the balance, and declaring false balances at AGMs and to the Financial Conduct Authority.

He also took a further £97,908 from Salire between 2017 and 2018. He was a director of the firm and sent out 40 invoices for fish stock which he had paid into his own account.

Chris Youell, prosecuting, said Lee had a “long-term gambling addiction” and “in order to obtain funds to feed that addiction, he became involved in two frauds”.

He said Lee “dishonestly abused” his position as treasurer of the NRURS to “make a personal profit for himself by putting funds belonging to the society for his own use or benefit.”

Mr Youell said Lee “covered his tracks” in a number of ways, including overstating expenses and understating profits and falsely inflating the balance on the society’s business account.

Lee, of Elm Road, Garboldisham, appeared in court for sentencing on Thursday having previously admitted two counts of fraud.

Before he was sentenced the court heard victim statements from Mr. Smith at the NRURS who said it had been a “gross, sustained and malicious breach of trust” by Lee over a decade.

John Farley, from Salire Ltd, described Lee as a “manipulative and deceitful person” and said his fraud had been “clever”.

He also said it had taken “hundreds of man hours” to try and rectify the problems caused by Lee.

Jailing Lee for a total of three years and four months Recorder John Bate-Williams said these were “very serious offenses of fraud causing very substantial losses”.

Recorder Bate-Williams recognized Lee had a “long-standing gambling addiction” which he helped pay for “by a prolonged period of terrible dishonesty”.

Jonathan Goodman, mitigating, said on the face of it this had been a “deceitful and cynical manipulator” but insisted this was not a man who was buying cars or race horses.

He said Lee was “a victim of an addiction”.

Mr Goodman said: “What he had is not a habit – it’s an addiction.

Speaking after the case, DC Natalie McCormack, who investigated the rugby fraud, said: “Lee used his position of trust in both organizations for his own gain.

“His prolonged offending has deprived a Norfolk sporting community of valuable financial resources for years, resources that should have benefited the sport of rugby.

“His actions were selfish and manipulative and showed a complete disregard for his victims, many of whom considered him a friend.”

DS Stuart Sansbury, investigating officer of the Salire fraud, said: “Lee had a responsibility to uphold the best interests and moral standards of a reputable trading company.

“Instead, he deceitfully mishandled company stock, and embezzled company money to help fund his personal gambling addiction.

“The impact on Salire Ltd was profound, and they struggled enormously, putting the welfare and livelihood of its staff at great risk.”

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