Fraudster jailed after leading Ludlow Rugby Club to the brink of ruin
Fraudster Samantha Rosenberg seemed like the perfect candidate to put Ludlow Rugby Club on a more professional footing.
But today, as she starts an eight-month sentence, club members spoke of the sense of betrayal they feel after she stole £20,000.
Instead of boosting commercial activities and taking Ludlow to the next level, Rosenberg took the previously thriving club to the brink of financial ruin as she siphoned off funds for her own personal gain.
And her duplicity was finally rumbled when electricity company officials turned up to cut off the power before the start of a crucial game.
Rosenberg's involvement with the club began after Ludlow were promoted to the Midlands One West league, and it was decided that more money was needed for coaching, physio staff, and new kit. Up until then, the role of treasurer had been held by a number of senior club members, who had conducted the job efficiently, but did not have any accounting background.
Club secretary Andy Wright said: "It was thought that in order to progress in a new era someone with an accounting background, who would have knowledge of dealing with matters such as forming a limited company, employment law and some of the detail required for gaining RFU accreditation, would be required."
Rosenberg, who portrayed herself as an accountant with club sponsor Ludlow Food Centre, had become a regular visitor at club events, and was known to many of the members. When she agreed to take on responsibility for the club finances, it seemed like a perfect solution.
Rosenberg was appointed as treasurer in June 2012, and immediately impressed fellow members with her business-like approach.
"She seemed a natural choice," said Mr Wright. "She impressed at early committee meetings with her ideas, energy and willingness to take on tasks but in fact within the first two months she had been helping herself to cash from the club."
Concerns about the club finances first started to surface in September 2013, when a loan secured to build a new clubhouse in the early 1990s was due to have been paid off.
"This should have released a lot of pressure on the club's finances," said Mr Wright. "In fact, according to the figures being presented to the committee by Rosenberg, the pressure was not being eased which led to a number of questions from committee members. She responded to those questions at a number of committee meetings with balance sheets which had been falsified and answers that indicated that bills had been paid but that through increased costs in several areas the club was barely holding its head above water."
Mr Wright said historically there had always been two signatories to the club's account with Lloyds Bank in Ludlow, the chairman and the treasurer. For practical purposes only one signature of the two was required, and in the past the treasurer had always been left to deal with the bulk of payments and purchases, with the committee meeting monthly to scrutinise the balance sheets.
Rosenberg converted the account to a telephone-banking business account based with Lloyds in Birmingham. She told the committee that as she worked full-time – first with Ludlow Food Centre and latterly as financial controller with the internationally Kingspan in Shobdon – it was more convenient for her to be able to control funds via phone banking.
However, what the committee and officials were not told was that she had set up a password known only to herself, meaning that no other club officials could access the account.
Her deception unravelled on January 14 when Ludlow were due to play a vital game against league opponents Tamworth at their Linney Ground. The bar manager arrived to find the clubhouse had been padlocked and the electricity cut off. It emerged that the club owed npower £3,200 and the club had been cut off.
Club president Gerry Acton had to pay the outstanding amount and a bond of £2,000 in order to reconnect the power so that the match could be played.
An immediate appeal went out to members to loan money to save the club from financial ruin, allowing it to pay its bills and survive.
Chairman Iain Braggins said: "If it were not for the generosity and loyalty of a handful of members, some of whom could ill afford to loan money, the club would certainly not have survived."
Rosenberg was contacted immediately. At a meeting with Mr Acton, Mr Braggins and secretary David Roberts, she initially claimed the bill had been paid and that there had been a mistake.
But she later confessed to taking money from the club, and was immediately dismissed as treasurer.
It eventually transpired that she had left a trail of unpaid bills while lining her own pocket.
"Because of the club's long history and its good credit rating with suppliers in the area few creditors had complained of non payment, even though some were long overdue," said Mr Wright. Letters from those that had complained had not been presented to the committee by Rosenberg.
It eventually emerged that during Rosenberg's 18 months as treasurer, she stole a total of £20,000 by making cash and cheque payments to herself.
Her secret password made it difficult to unravel the extent of the financial mess, and it took Lloyds Bank more than two months to provide statements to the club. Several cheque stubs were blank and the bank were unable to provide details for several months.
Mr Wright added that without the help of forensic accountants Malcolm Piper and Co, Rosenberg would probably never have been brought to justice.
"The lack of paperwork trail, no book-keeping records, and the fact that no legislation had been adhered to made the trail a difficult one to follow," said Mr Wright.
The situation turned out to be far worse than even club officials had feared. Rosenberg had presented a set of "audited" accounts to the committee, supposedly signed off by her and another accountant with whom she worked at Kingspan.
But it turned out to be another lie. Police have been unable to find any evidence that Rosenberg is a qualified accountant and the woman who allegedly signed off the club accounts had never set eyes on them. Her signature had been forged. Rosenberg was dismissed from Kingspan as soon as this was uncovered.
Mr Wright said that despite the hardship caused by Rosenberg, the club was quickly returned to good health financially, and attained its clubmark accreditation with the RFU thanks to the efforts of several volunteers, and has maintained its good name with suppliers and other rugby clubs.
"The club owes a great debt to Malcolm Piper Accountants and West Mercia police and Crown Prosecution Service in bringing this sad event in our 80-year history to a satisfactory conclusion," said Mr Wright.
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