Leeds Grand Theatre finance boss '˜in Â£180,000 invoice fraud'
The head of finance at Leeds Grand Theatre defrauded it of nearly Â£180,000 by entering dozens of fake invoices before arranging to split the money with a '˜passing acquaintance' who had been sent the funds, a court has heard.
Peter Alp entered 54 invoices for services that were not actually carried out on behalf of a man called Dean Oates and a company called Bittern Entertainment, Leeds Crown Court was told.
A trial jury heard that each invoice would result in hundreds, and later thousands of pounds, in public money being paid into either Oates’s bank account or one he set up in the name of Bittern.
The 54-year-old would then allegedly go to a Harrogate pub to meet Oates, who had fallen on hard times after being injured in a car accident and was unable to work, in order to pick up half the money.
Christopher Dunn, prosecuting, told the court that the invoices to the value of £178,340 were found to be fraudulent during an internal audit.
He said: “The defence that Mr Alp puts forward is that ‘I didn’t know that, I was an innocent party, all I did was what I normally do’.”
The court was told that while Alp was working at the theatre he took on the role of inputting the invoices and stopped some of the internal safeguarding measures. Mr Dunn said he did this because he was committing the fraud with his co-defendant.
Alp entered 50 of the 54 “bent” invoices himself between 2011 and 2013, the jury was told, while the remaining four were entered by a colleague after being authorised for payment by the defendant.
Mr Dunn said Alp claimed he had received authorisation to enter the 50 invoices by another colleague, who the jury was told denied giving any authorisation or even knowing about the payments.
Oates, from Lime Bar Lane, York, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, while Alp, originally from Harrogate and now of Minster Drive, Herne Bay, Kent, denies the same offence.
Alp sat at the back of the court with his arm in a sling while the case against him was outlined. The jury of six men and six woman was told that he was “not a well man”.
In his evidence, Oates said he had known Alp for between 18 to 20 years and agreed he was a ‘passing acquaintance’. He later said they played ‘the odd game of golf together’.
In 2009, Oates was in a car accident which left him with a severe case of the nerve condition sciatica and bed-bound for nine months.
Describing his situation after the crash, he said: “I just couldn’t do anything, I was trying but I couldn’t. I did a bit of singing, I was self-employed.”
He said he bumped into Alp in the Coach and Horses pub in Harrogate, where he was asked how he was and replied: “Things are not good.”
Oates told the jury: “He said to me: ‘Do you want to make some money?’ I said ‘yes’.” He added that he thought Alp might have been involved in tax evasion, though he admitted later this was just an assumption.
The jury was told that two or three months later the pair bumped into each other again and went to a Harrogate pub, either the Fat Badger or the Coach and Horses.
Oates said: “He said ‘Give me your bank account, some money will be coming in. When it comes in, split it and we will have half, 50/50. Put it in a bag and give it to me.’”
Oates said in his evidence that he would initially receive smaller amounts, such as £700 or £900, but later larger amounts such as £2,000, £3,000 and £5,000 came in.
He said that each time he would receive a text from Alp saying money was coming to him, he would then withdraw it from his account, put any related correspondence in a bag and give the cash to the defendant.
He said during cross-examination: “I couldn’t understand why he wanted it in the first place but I was not going to ask questions.”
Oates told the jury that during this period he was “dabbling with illegal drugs” and drinking heavily.
The court was told he was arrested in July 2013 after attending a Leeds police station. On arrest he said: “I am glad it is over, I have never been in trouble before.”
After being taken to Leeds central charging office, where he was taken into custody, he said: “I wouldn’t exactly say it was fraud, I requested it and they paid it.”
Jason MacAdam, representing Alp, said to Oates, who did not implicate the defendant until a statement given on September 7, 2016, that he was lying by claiming he was giving evidence “to do the right thing”.
He said: You are trying to soft-soap the judge into thinking you should have a lesser sentence, that Alp has manipulated you, that you have been used. That is the only reason you are here.”
Oates replied: “I am here to tell the truth.”
Mr MacAdam then said to him: “You never met [Alp] anywhere, you never gave him any money.” Oates replied: “I gave him the money, yes.”
The trial continues.