Former charity chiefs embroiled in luxury spending spree and spying scandal

The former bosses of a homelessness charity spent thousands of pounds of charity funds on luxury trips, meals and items including TVs, Apple Watches and silk sheets.

Charity funds were also spent buying surveillance equipment to spy on those involved in contract negotiations.

The charity’s former chief executive also received thousands of pounds for his involvement in property deals, which involved selling off charity housing for vulnerable homeless people.

The findings have emerged in a Charity Commission investigation into the running of the Ashley Foundation, which operates flats and hostels for homeless people in Sunderland, Blackpool and Blackburn.

In finding serious financial mismanagement, the regulator’s probe details how the Foundation's “funds were used to benefit the charity’s former CEO and former trustees”.

It found that former chief executive Lee Dribben “personally received £40,000 for his involvement” in selling off properties before “entering into highly disadvantageous agreements with a third party to manage those same properties”.

Dribben, and his son Ashley, also benefited from “thousands of pounds of charity funds for the repair and upkeep” of their personal properties.

Lee Dribben also used charity funds for “luxury travel and meals”. This included £3,000 on a three-night trip to London.

The regulator found that “charity money was also inappropriately spent on luxury items including Apple Watches, flat screen TVs and silk sheets” which Lee Dribben had claimed were “gifts for associates”.

Another item bought with charity funds was a £600 “spymaster tracking system”. This was used “to surveil individuals during contract negotiations with the charity”, which the regulator says is “unacceptable”.

Lee and Ashley Dribben have been banned from senior charity roles for 15 years and the charity’s ex-chair David Kam has been banned for ten years.

During its investigation the charity’s bank accounts were frozen and further sales of properties halted. In addition, the case has been referred to Lancashire police amid “concerns about potential criminality”.

The regulator points out that the charity’s current trustees have “taken action to rectify governance problems”. This includes re-acquiring sold properties and terminating agreements.

The Commission said it is “now satisfied the appropriate controls are in place to safeguard the charity’s assets moving forward”.

The regulator’s head of investigations Amy Spiller added: “Our investigation found that the former trustees and CEO misused this charity and received significant unauthorised personal benefit from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless people.

“Trustees must use their charity’s funds to further the charity’s purposes and ensure there are robust financial and controls in place to stop the abuse of these funds.

“I commend the current board of trustees for identifying the serious wrongdoing and initiating action to put the charity’s house in order. I hope that their work, and our intervention, means the charity is now able to deliver on its charitable purposes to help the homeless across Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.”

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