Former professional footballers invented “ghost learners” to steal £5 million of public cash intended to fund the training of apprentices, a court has heard.
Mark Aizlewood, 57, whose playing career included 70 appearances for Leeds United and Paul Sugrue, 56, are said to have committed the scam through their business, Luis Michael Training Ltd between 2009 and 2011.
The pair, along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53, are alleged to have submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm - a provider of football-based apprenticeship schemes for young people.
The company then set about enrolling suitable apprentices to claim money from the colleges, which was provided by the Government.
But Southwark Crown Court heard some of the apprentices did not exist, while others received just two to three hours training a week.
Prosecutor Alexandra Healy QC said LM Training even got children on work experience in its office to complete tests, reviews and comments on behalf of learners and employers.
She told jurors: “The case concerns fraud involving something in the region of £5 million of public money. That money was intended to be used to fund the training of apprentices.”
The court heard LM Training was set up in 2009 to provide apprenticeship training to eligible learners in partnership with colleges.
The colleges had direct contracts with The Learning and Skills Council (LSC), later renamed the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), receiving public funding to educate students.
The prosecutor explained: “In order to persuade colleges to do business with them, they submitted false accounts purporting to show LM Training had a history of trading profitably, when the Crown say they only set up LM Training in 2009.
“Having persuaded the colleges to enter into partnership agreements, the defendants went about purporting to identify, enrol and train apprentices so as to be able to claim the funding from the colleges, and the colleges claimed the public funds from the LSC or the SFA.
Jurors were told apprentices had to be employed and receive a salary, as well as receiving a number of appropriate hours training, sitting exams, and submitting portfolios.
Ms Healy said: “But a number of the learners that were enrolled, were in fact what are called ‘ghost learners’.
“They didn’t exist, or didn’t know their names were being used to claim public funding, or people were getting qualifications in their name.
“Of those learners who did exist, the majority of them weren’t employed.”
Aizlewood, from Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan, is on trial with Sugrue, from Cardiff, and Williams, 45, from Cemaes Bay, Anglesey.
They each deny two counts of conspiracy to commit false representation.
Jack Harper, 30, who began working with LM Training in December 2009, of Southport, Merseyside, is also on trial and denies one charge of conspiracy to commit false representation, an additional count of fraud and one of using a false instrument.
Jurors were told Martin, from Catmore, in West Berkshire, has pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, while Stephen Gooding, 53, from of Bridgwater, Somerset has admitted one count of the same charge.
The trial is due to continue on Friday.