AN ACCOUNTANT who fleeced taxpayers of nearly £180,000 while he was head of finance at Leeds Grand Theatre has been jailed for five years.
Peter Alp was told he had committed the offences of out of “sheer greed” after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud.
A court heard Alp abused a high position of trust at a time when taxpayers money was being used to subsidise the arts in the city as the theatre was running at a financial deficit of £500,000 a year.
The judge who sentenced Alp also branded the 54-year-old’s behaviour as “shameful and despicable” as he deliberately allowed his colleagues to be placed under suspicion when the two-year deception came to light.
Recorder Nigel Sangster said: “You engaged in a campaign of flat denial. Directly or indirectly, you pointed the finger of suspicion at a number of totally innocent and decent colleagues.
“They feared that they might lose their jobs or would be asked to pay back the money or would be implicated in the fraud.”
The jury at Leeds Crown Court heard Alp would enter fake invoices before arranging for money to be sent to a friend’s bank account then splitting the cash with him.
He 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.
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.
Oates gave evidence at the trial when he told the jury that Alp would go to a Harrogate pub - The Fat Badger - to meet him in order to pick up half of the money.
Invoices to the value of £178,340 were found to be fraudulent during an internal audit. The offending took place between 2011 and 2013.
Oates, 47, from Lime Bar Lane, York, had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.
He was jailed for 16 months. Recorder Sangster told Oates he was able to reduce the length of the sentence because he had co-operated with the prosecution case against Alp.
He said: “The evidence you gave was important and relevant in the conviction of Alp.”
Alp, originally from Harrogate and now of Minster Drive, Herne Bay, Kent, denied the offences throughout the trial.
Recorder Sangster told Alp: “You chose to use your knowledge of the system to act dishonestly and enrich yourself.
He added: “You had no financial problems...I can only conclude that the motive for your offending was for sheer greed.”
After the case Detective Inspector Marc Bowes, of Leeds District Police, said: “Alp abused his position of trust to defraud Leeds Grand Theatre of large amounts of money over a considerable period of time.
“This was an organised and sustained pattern of criminal behaviour rather than a momentary lapse and the sentence he has received should illustrate to others how seriously offences of this nature will be treated.
“He was assisted in this large-scale fraud by Oates who played a significant role in the offence and admitted his guilt at an early stage.”