Four men, including two former professional footballers, have been found guilty today of taking part in a major fraud in which the Skills Funding Agency paid out £5 million for a fake football coaching apprenticeship scheme.
Former Wales defender Mark Aizlewood, 56, and Paul Sugrue, 57, who played for clubs such as Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City, ran the scheme through a business, Luis Michael Training Ltd.
The pair, along with fellow directors Keith Williams and Christopher Martin, submitted false documents to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm – a provider of football-based apprenticeship schemes for young people.
They used endorsements from former footballer Ian Rush and references to professional football clubs on leaflets to make the company appear legitimate.
Other defendants Stephen Gooding and Jack Harper helped to find learners for the fake scheme.
Gooding and Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation before the start of the trial at Southwark Crown Court last year. Aizlewood, Sugrue, Williams and Harper pleaded not guilty.
The young people on the scheme were told that they would be earning £95 a week while studying for an NVQ in Activity Leadership. Apprenticeships were supposed to have at least 30 hours of teaching each week. Most students on courses with Luis Michael Training Ltd received two to three hours.
Apprentices were not paid the promised £95 a week. Some were not paid at all, whereas others got just £10 a week.
Many of the 3,000 students enrolled were "ghost learners" who were signed up without their knowledge and never attended a single class.
When the scam unravelled, the Skills Funding Agency demanded some of the money back that it had paid to colleges for courses.
Schools and colleges had to return £3.5 million, leaving some unable to provide other school services.
The six men will be sentenced on February 26 at Southwark Crown Court, London.