Beds, Herts & Bucks

Stephen Ashton jailed for Herts charity fraud

Stephen Ashton Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption It is the second time that Stephen Ashton has been jailed for false accounting

A man has been jailed for stealing more than £2.5m from the charity he worked for to pay for his lover's mortgage and luxury holidays.

Accountant Stephen Ashton, 62, from Dunstable, stole from Morris Cerullo World Evangelism in Hemel Hempstead,

Luton Crown Court heard he told his mistress his wife was dead when in fact she was living in Dunstable.

He pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and false accounting and was jailed for five years and seven months.

'Abuse of trust'

Ashton, of West Hill, had worked for the charity for 16 years and was paid £44,000 a year.

Prosecutor Robert Bryan said: "He abused his position of trust over many years by falsifying invoices and accounts to pay for his personal affairs, his lifestyle and that of others."

He told Judge Nic Madge that in March 1992, Ashton had been jailed for three years for 11 counts of theft by an employee and two of false accounting.

"There was degree of similarity between that offence and what he has done now," he said.

Image copyright South Beds News Agency

The court heard he spent £500,000 on his mistress' home, with £106,000 on a bespoke horse box for her and went on luxury hotel trips in New York and London.

He was caught when a worker at the charity discovered he had been manipulating reports.

When Ashton's cabinets were opened at work, unpaid invoices, receipts for unheard of companies and letters from debt collectors were found.

Ashton was arrested by West Midlands Police at Birmingham Airport, after buying a one way ticket to Tenerife.

A proceeds of crime hearing will be held at a later date.

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