Three NHS managers (one in-house and two from an agency) have been sentenced at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court for defrauding Powys Teaching Health Board (PTHB) of £822,236.22. Mark Evill was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, Robert Howells to four years and Michael Cope to three years.
Mark Evill (47, of Shirenewton in Chepstow) organised the fraud. He was assisted by Robert Howells (65, of Sudbury, Chepstow) and Michael Cope (43, of Garden City in Merthyr Tydfil). Evill and Howells were both employed through the Resourcing Group agency as project managers for the Health Board’s Estates Department, while Cope was employed directly by the Board as a senior estate manager.
An in-depth investigation revealed that Evill and Howells knew each other prior to joining the agency and the PTHB. An anonymous allegation was received via the NHS Fraud and Corruption Reporting Line which stated that Evill and Howells had misappropriated NHS money by receiving “pay-offs” from external contractors.
Evill’s responsibilities included sourcing external contractors, approving tenders and quotes, authorising payments of invoices and verifying work completed. A water supplies and electrical supply project was allocated £342,000 by PTHB, and Evill directed that a specific contractor named George Morgan Ltd be used.
An investigation conducted by NHS CFS Wales confirmed that George Morgan Ltd was actually set up and run by Evill with the intention of paying himself for the work he was supposed to be contracting out on behalf of PTHB.
Under the guise of George Morgan Ltd, Evill invoiced the Health Board using false names “Paul Hewson” and “David Evans”, in turn making over £822,000. Paul Hewson and David Evans are better known as Bono and The Edge from the rock band U2.
Complicit in the fraud
The investigation established that Evill spent approximately £300,000 of the defrauded monies on a number of properties in and around Aberdare in South Wales, went on luxury holidays (which included flying business class to Dubai) and also bought expensive watches and motor vehicles.
Howells knew from the outset of Evill’s connection to George Morgan Ltd, with Cope finding out sometime later. Both became complicit in the fraud by accepting bribes from Evill, who gave them envelopes containing cash or cheques, which he then posted to their home addresses. The work that was actually carried out was done to a very poor standard, so the Health Board subsequently had to pay to correct it.
The three men appeared at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court in April this year, whereupon they all pleaded not guilty. On 11 October, Evill and Howells changed their pleas to guilty, while Cope maintained his not guilty plea. Cope was found guilty by the Jury on 25 October.
The Judge commended lead investigator Cheryl Hill, deputy manager of NHS CFS Wales, noting that her investigation and case preparation had greatly assisted the judicial process.
Efforts will now be made to recover the money.
Lining their own pockets
Cheryl Hill explained: “Defrauding NHS Wales in any capacity is totally unacceptable. Evill, Howells and Cope were all entrusted to ensure that the money spent by the Powys Teaching Health Board was to be used to benefit NHS patients. Instead, they decided to line their own pockets with NHS money via a well-planned and deliberate deception. The sentences send out a strong deterrent message to anyone who tries to defraud NHS Wales. All referrals will be professionally investigated by CFS Wales and appropriate criminal, civil and disciplinary action will be pursued. CFS Wales will now focus on recovering the proceeds of the fraud for the Powys Teaching Health Board from the defendants by using our powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.”
Sue Frith, interim CEO of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, added: “This result reflects the ways in which justice will be sought against anyone who chooses to take money from the public sector. I commend the great work of our counterparts at the CFS in Wales. The successful conviction is another win for the NHS and a big deterrent to those who dare to abuse it.”
Juliette Simms, specialist prosecutor for CPS, commented: “Mark Evill took hundreds of thousands of pounds from this public body out of greed, fixing it with colleagues to ensure that his business received lucrative contracts for work. He enjoyed a luxury lifestyle with the NHS money he defrauded. His partners in crime originally claimed they didn’t know about Evill’s involvement with the company, but the CPS proved Howells was complicit in the fraud and that Evill had bought him a Ford Focus worth almost £11,000 for his efforts.”
Carol Shillabeer, CEO of the Powys Teaching Health Board, concluded: “The people of Powys have been badly let down by the criminal actions of these individuals. I would like to thank the NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales for its support which has helped to bring this successful prosecution, and also for the steps the organisation will now be taking to support the NHS in recovering the proceeds of this fraud.”