How a dodgy CV began saga of pound;1.3m skills council rip-off

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Bogus job application allowed LSC adult learning director Paul Kent to become ringleader in huge contract-rigging scam

A plan to defraud the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) of more than pound;1 million began with a simple fake CV.

Paul Kent's embellished job application worked better than he could have hoped for: first it gave him access to the millions being spent in Shropshire on adult skills. Then, even as he was diverting cash to friends and pocketing kickbacks, he won a promotion.

He also fell in love. Sarah Emberton, 36, was internal funding manager at the local LSC, and the 46-year-old Mr Kent was her line manager. They formed a relationship in December 2003, just months after Mr Kent had begun his fraud. In July 2005, as the scale of the corruption grew, they were married.

The wedding at a country house in Somerset and the honeymoon cruise to Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives cost pound;37,000. In the preceding months, they had treated themselves to a collection of designer watches worth pound;15,000, an Audi TT as a wedding gift for the bride and a pound;300,000 detached home.

They had plans for a pound;100,000 extension for a pool and gym, although their combined income was supposed to be only about pound;60,000.

A colleague, Karl Angeloff, had become suspicious, and the expense of the wedding fuelled his concerns: he reported them and an internal investigation was launched. By the time Mr Kent returned from honeymoon, he was suspended, and the case referred to police.

Lee Craddock, the Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) case manager, said: "He had become, in effect, the number two in the Shropshire office, going out and corrupting providers. On paper, he looked very good - he seemed to deliver and he was very charming."

The truth about Mr Kent's CV was that he had fabricated about seven years of his career after being sacked by Prudential in the 1990s. He bagged a job at Kidderminster College, then Sutton Coldfield College before he applied to the LSC. A reference check back to Sutton Coldfield resulted in a glowing report, police said.

A joint investigation by the SFO and West Mercia Police found that shortly after starting as adult learning strategy manager in June 2003, Mr Kent was encouraging an old school friend to apply for contracts which he was tendering. Rebecca Hoyle, who ran a graphic design company, received a total of pound;94,000, paying pound;29,000 back to Mr Kent.

He recruited another LSC employee in late 2003, when Silinder Sidhu, a 46- year-old from Walsall, joined the office as marketing co-ordinator, reporting to Mr Kent. In November that year, he resigned, citing his mother's terminal illness.

But in reality, he was following Mr Kent's advice to found a company and become a service provider to the LSC. Under the guise of SLK Marketing, Mr Sidhu received pound;266,000 for work as a consultant and paid Mr Kent pound;80,000 in kickbacks.

Then, in December 2004, Mr Kent was promoted to director of adult learning and his fraud grew more ambitious.

Stuart Ford, 57, from Shrewsbury, had run franchises of Pitman Training in Shropshire for 16 years but had failed to win LSC contracts. He was approached by Mr Kent, who suggested he set up the Telford Learning Zone, part of a nationwide project to establish local centres for business support and training, with a library and e-learning facilities.

It would be run by Shropshire Learning Centres, a firm founded by Mr Kent himself. Mr Ford's businesses would provide services to the LSC. The arrangement ended with more than pound;920,000 paid to Mr Ford under his contracts with the LSC, and more than pound;190,000 pocketed by Mr Kent.

In total, pound;1.3 million of public money was paid to the contract-rigging ring, with pound;270,000 of backhanders paid to its ringleader.

Last Friday, Judge Robert Orme at Birmingham Crown Court lifted reporting restrictions on the case and sentenced four of the five defendants.

Mr Kent was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment for obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception and 11 counts of receiving corrupt payments. His wife will be sentenced at a later date after pleading guilty to using criminal property.

Mr Sidhu pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption and was found guilty of two more during a two-week trial last month. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Ms Hoyle, who gave evidence against Sidhu at trial, saw her one-year sentence for pleading guilty to three counts of corruption suspended, while Mr Ford, who also testified, received a two-year sentence for five counts of corruption.

Police are due to bring proceedings to confiscate the ring's profits.

A spokeswoman for the Skills Funding Agency, the LSC's successor body, said it did not believe it could have uncovered Mr Kent's fake CV. "Even the most thorough recruitment policy will not prevent an individual from committing wrong," she said.

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