Ex-boss of homelessness charity ‘spent thousands on luxury travel and meals’

The former boss of a charity for the homeless spent thousands of pounds of his money on luxury travel, meals and watches, an investigation has found

ee Dribben, former executive chairman of the Ashley Foundation, also used charity money to buy a surveillance system, according to a Charity Commission investigation.

The regulator said it found evidence of “serious financial mismanagement” and that charity funds were being used to benefit Mr Dribben and former trustees.

Incorporated in 1997, the charity operates hostels and flats for the homeless in Blackburn, Blackpool and Sunderland.

The Charity Commission’s inquiry, which began investigating the charity in August 2019, found that Mr Dribben had spent more than £3,000 on a three-day trip to London, which included first-class travel and meals at Le Caprice and the Wolseley Hotel in Mayfair.

Charity money has also been inappropriately spent on Apple watches, flat-screen TVs, a hair dryer and silk bed linen, the regulator said, which Mr Dribben claimed were gifts “to people who we thought would help us in the future”.

He also bought a Spymaster tracking system, which the investigation says was used to monitor people during contract negotiations with the charity.

The Charity Commission said this was inappropriate and that “covert activities were unacceptable” for a charity.

The inquiry also revealed thousands of pounds of charity money was spent on repairing and maintaining personal property owned by Mr Dribben and his son Ashley, a former trustee.

Another former trustee, David Kam, signed blank checks to be drawn on the charity’s bank account, which meant he couldn’t be sure how much would be paid or to whom, the regulator said.

The former trustees and CEO have abused this charity and obtained significant unauthorized personal benefits from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless peopleAmy Spiller

Former trustees are said to have sold several of the charity’s properties housing vulnerable homeless people before entering into “highly prejudicial arrangements” with a third party to manage those properties.

The regulator said current trustees have taken action, such as buying back the properties sold, and are satisfied that adequate controls are in place.

It disqualified Lee and Ashley Dribben from trusteeships and management of charities for 15 years and Mr Kam, a former chairman of the charity, for 10 years.

Amy Spiller, lead investigator at the Charity Commission, said: “Our investigation found that the former trustees and CEO abused this charity and obtained material unauthorized personal benefits from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless people.

“Trustees must use their charity’s funds to further the charity’s causes and ensure strict financial controls are in place to stop the misuse of those funds.

“I congratulate the current Board of Trustees for identifying the serious wrongdoing and taking action to put the charity’s home in order.

“I hope that their work and our intervention result in the charity now being able to carry out its charitable purposes of helping the homeless in Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.”

Lisa Edwards, Chair of the Ashley Foundation Trustees, thanked the commission for its “thorough investigation” and for recognizing the “diligent work” of the current Trustees to secure the future of the charity.

The regulator began investigating after it and the current chief executive raised concerns.

Ms Edwards said: “The findings of the inquiry are deeply disturbing but unfortunately as we suspected. This is why we raised our concerns with both the Charity Commission and Lancashire Police three years ago.

“We wish to clarify that the trustees and former CEO referred to in the Commission’s investigation report are no longer affiliated with the Ashley Foundation in any way.”

She said it’s been a “difficult time” but the charity looks forward to continuing to provide services to the homeless.

https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/ex-boss-of-homelessness-charity-spent-thousands-on-luxury-travel-and-meals-42285023.html Ex-boss of homelessness charity ‘spent thousands on luxury travel and meals’

Linh

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