A man who defrauded Conwy Council out of £125,000 has been sentenced to three years in prison. Christopher O'Neill set up a charity for North Wales war veterans called Forces for Good, then spent money he obtained for the project on his own lavish lifestyle, and a gambling habit.
Sentencing O'Neill at Caernarfon Crown Court this morning, Judge Niclas Parry said his crime was nothing other than "a sophisticated, high value scam, a wicked deception on the public purse to enrich yourself."
"Your wicked lies involved deceiving former soldiers who truly had seen awful things, who's truly had been blighted by the horrors of war, and were deceived into thinking you had also served.
"He said it was "frankly astounding" that the Welsh Government approved O'Neill's project without checking basic facts, adding that the case highlighted the importance of making checks when approving grants out of the public purse.
A forfeiture and destruction order was also made on O'Neill's goods.
The charity operated a hotel in Llandudno, North Wales, a nine-house supported housing project on Anglesey along with a caravan site.But instead of spending the £125,000 government grant to help ex-servicemen the court was told that he stole from his own organisation to lead a luxury lifestyle until the money ran out.
They were also told that O'Neill transferred £74,800 from the Forces For Good bank account into his own. He was also accused of ripping off a dying woman by persuading her to invest £30,000 in his hotel renovation and continued to cash cheques from her account after she died.
Conman O'Neill also convinced the Welsh Assembly government he was legitimate. He won over politicians, probation workers, senior police officers and even convinced war veterans like Simon Weston that he wanted to help struggling servicemen and women.
O'Neill lied about his own very brief army career - and gave "expert" evidence to parliamentary and Welsh government committees about post-traumatic stress disorder and the impact on soldiers leaving the forces.
Following the sentencing, the Welsh Government said Conwy County Borough Council "were responsible for administering the substance misuse capital grant funding to Forces for Good and Welsh Government officials have subsequently worked with Conwy CBC to review and strengthen their governance procedures."
In response a council spokesperson said that they have now fully repaid the money given to the Forces For Good charity to the Welsh Government. Adding that the payment would not affect any budgets.
Gareth Preston, Crown Prosecution Service said that O'Neill's offences represented a "flagrant breach of the trust placed in him by a significant number of people."
– Gareth Preston, Crown Prosecution Service
O’Neill carried out a fraud involving the misuse of scarce public funds that were meant to help a particularly vulnerable section of our society. He also cruelly took advantage of another vulnerable victim at a very difficult time in her life.
There is little doubt that O’Neill’s crimes have had a significant and negative impact on the prospects of all of those who have lost out as a result.
By working in close partnership with North Wales Police, we were able to build a robust prosecution case that ultimately led to guilty pleas from the defendant. I would like to thank all of those who supported the prosecuting authorities in ensuring that O’Neill has faced justice for his actions.