The former head of a charity for the disabled has been jailed for five years after being found guilty of transferring £250,000 from the organisation's pension scheme to buy overseas property and pay off personal debt.
Patrick McLarry was found guilty at Winchester Crown Court today (February 10).
He was jailed for five years and banned from being a director for eight years.
Fraud by abuse of position carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The Pensions Regulator, which brought the case, is now seeking a compensation order to force McLarry to pay back the money he took from the scheme.
McLarry had admitted to one charge of fraud at a previous court hearing but then tried to change his plea to not guilty.
At the hearing today, Judge Andrew Barnett said McLarry had acted with appalling dishonesty and breach of trust.
At the time of the fraud, McLarry was both the chief executive and chairman of the charity and a director of VerdePlanet Limited, the corporate trustee of the charity’s pension scheme.
An investigation by the TPR found prior to VerdePlanet being appointed as the trustee of the scheme, the corporate trustee had amended the scheme’s definitive deed which meant the scheme was unable to pursue McLarry for the funds that he went on to take.
Between March 2012 and February 2013 he arranged for £256,127 to be transferred from the charity pension scheme into bank accounts he controlled.
He then forged documents and misled TPR investigators in an attempt to cover his tracks, the court found.
He also failed to hand over vital information, such as bank statements, which TPR later prosecuted him for in April 2017.
Work and Pensions secretary Therese Coffey said: "Defrauding disabled people of their hard-earned pension savings is a despicable crime. I welcome today's sentence.
"This government will ensure that individuals who pocket people's retirement funds feel the full force of the law. To protect savers further we are introducing new laws, with a maximum jail term of seven years, for those who wilfully or recklessly endanger pensions."
Under the Pension Schemes Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, it will become a criminal offence to have committed “wilful or grossly reckless behaviour” in relation to a pension scheme, which will carry a prison sentence of up to seven years for company bosses responsible.
Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said: “This sends a clear warning that we will use the full force of our powers and work with partner enforcement agencies to protect pension savers.
“McLarry tried every trick in the book to hide his actions and squander the pension pots of those he was responsible for, but we were able to uncover the truth and bring him to justice.
“We will now work to seize assets from McLarry so that as much of the money as possible is returned to its rightful owners who will rightly rely on it to deliver their pensions in retirement.”