Blokes jet-set lifestyle as he scams church out of £5.2m and takes 158 flights

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    An ex-employee of the Church of England has been jailed after stealing £5.2m from the religious institution.

    Martin Sargeant, 53, previously spent time behind bars for stealing from previous employers in the 1990s but was given a "second chance" – and an £86,000-a-year job with the Archdeaconry of London.

    Sargeant looked after some 33 city churches, several of which were considered "dysfunctional" and didn't even have a vicar.

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    He was also a clerk of the City Church grants committee charitable trust during the time he was stealing from the church.

    Southwark Crown Court heard Sargeant had made false applications for grants for maintenance and improvements and spent the cash – more than £5.2m – on his own lavish lifestyle.

    Prosecutor Joey Kwong said Sargeant, who was jailed for five years, was "handsomely remunerated" in his job, but "defrauded the church in a persistent, sophisticated and frankly brazen manner" between 2009 and 2019.

    Kwong said: "It is clear that the funds were lavished on his lifestyle.

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    "By the end of the fraud he had assets of more than £450,000 across personal bank accounts as well as having three properties in Scotland worth approximately £1million.

    "He lavished money on multiple trips abroad and there was lavish spending in terms of his lifestyle."

    The court heard Sargeant's many properties, purchased with the church's money, included six log cabins which he rented out as a business.

    He also made £600,000 in investments and spent more than £1m on credit cards.

    Sargeant had booked an eye-watering 158 flights over the 10-year period, destination-hopping between New York, Miami, Barcelona, the Maldives, and Rome.

    As a result of his crimes, many City churches were left unable to fund crucial maintenance and were forced to close forever.

    Kwong said Sargeant had spent just £1,500 on the church, and that although Sargeant had a gambling problem it was "not the main driver in the offending – it’s greed".

    The former clergyman was jailed today (Monday, December 19) after pleading guilty to a count of fraud by abuse of position between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2019.

    He also denied a count of money laundering, which was left to lie on file.

    Judge Michael Grieve KC said: "This was a sophisticated fraud carried out systematically over a period of 11 years resulting in a massive loss to the churches of the City of London, which they could ill afford."

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    Meanwhile Mark Ruffell, defending, said his client wanted "those who have suffered because of him to know he is genuinely sorry and he accepts 100% what he has done."

    He added: "Underlying all that has gone on is his gambling addiction."

    Sargeant spent 21 months in prison after he was convicted in 1995 of a swathe of offences including 19 counts of theft.

    He was also handed a community order in 1992.

    The Church neither confirmed nor denied claims that his previous criminal activity had been disclosed before he was employed.

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