Cambrian News photographer - Mark Aizlewood was seen by investigators as a “main player” in the scam

A FORMER Aberystwyth Town and Wales footballer has been found guilty of fraud after taking £424,000 as part of a fake apprenticeship scheme.

The Cambrian News reported “Mark Aizlewood, 57 – who played for Aberystwyth Town in 1996/97 – denied the charges of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation – being found guilty of one but cleared on the other.

He stood trial with former Cardiff City player, Paul Sugrue, 56; fellow director Keith Williams, 45, from Anglesey; and Jack Harper, 30, of Merseyside.

They denied the charges during a four-month trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Sugrue and Williams were convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, while Harper was found guilty of fraud and using a false instrument. He was not guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.

Two men – Christopher Martin, 53, of Catmore, West Berkshire and Stephen Gooding, 53, from Bridgwater, Somerset – previously admitted their part in the youth training scheme fraud.

Aizlewood was seen by investigators as a “main player” in the scam, using his contacts to gain credibility as a former professional top-flight footballer.

The court heard Aizlewood, who won 39 caps for Wales, and Sugrue set up Luis Michael Training Ltd as a football-based apprenticeship scheme with Williams and Martin.

But it targeted colleges, charities, football clubs and sports associations between 2009 and 2011, fraudulently obtaining around £5m of public funds earmarked to create apprenticeships for vulnerable young people.

They promised to provide full-time training in football coaching as well as work experience and a £95 weekly salary to 3,800 students.

However, it was discovered that hundreds of the students on their books did not even exist, while some lived at the opposite end of the country from the scheme or were doing just two to three hours of study a week.

Investigations found that between October 2009 and December 2010, Sugrue pocketed £516,000, Aizlewood £424,000, Gooding £448,000, Harper £311,000, Williams £295,000 and Martin £249,000.

The Serious Fraud Office said that money should have gone towards young apprentices “who were almost all very vulnerable young people”.

“As an ex-international footballer, Mark Aizlewood knew the industry and how the system worked and his gravitas helped the company get in with colleges, football clubs and learners,” the SFO said.

“As a result of the failure of Luis Michael Training, many of the learners were having trouble putting food on the table for their families.

“They then had to attend court and were nervous and scared of what that meant.

“Instead of transforming their futures, this ordeal had made many of them even more vulnerable.”

Sentencing was adjourned until 26 February. All the men have been released on bail” here.

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