Posted on: December 20, 2022, 02:38h. 

Last updated on: December 20, 2022, 02:38h.

An ex-con who bilked the Church of England out of £5.2 million (US$6.3 million) could not claim gambling addiction as a mitigating factor in his crime.

Martin Sargeant
Martin Sargeant, pictured above outside court. The former church official spent vast sums of stolen money on airfare and other luxuries. (Image: Press Association)

Prosecutors said the main driver of former church official Martin Sargeant’s offending was “greed” and the desire to live a luxury lifestyle.

On Monday, a judge at London’s Southwark Crown Court sentenced Sargeant, 53, to five years in prison. That’s after the former Operations Manager for the Diocese of London pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2019.

The court heard that the Church had given Sargeant a “second chance” because he had previously served a 21-month prison sentence for theft from an employer in the 1990s. He claimed he disclosed his previous conviction before he was hired, which the Church has neither confirmed nor denied.

Addiction No Defense

Sargeant drew a salary of £86,000 (US$104,000) per year. But he siphoned off money by creating false applications for maintenance grants and dipped into funds received from large city developments near churches to fund a millionaire’s lifestyle.

His lawyer, Mark Ruffell, said Sargeant wanted “those who have suffered because of him to know he is genuinely sorry, and he accepts 100% what he has done.”

“Underlying all that has gone on is his gambling addiction,” Ruffell claimed.

Gambling addiction is not an official mitigation within the British criminal justice system, although in certain cases it can be a considered as a factor during sentencing if the defendant has committed to attending problem gambling counseling programs.

But in this case, Sargeant’s claims did not fly. While prosecutors accepted Sargeant had a gambling problem, this did not feed his motivation to steal as much as “greed,” prosecutor Joey Kwong said.

Lavish Lifestyle

“It is clear that the funds were lavished on his lifestyle,” said Kwong. “By the end of the fraud he had assets of more than £450,000 across personal bank accounts, as well as owning three properties in Scotland worth approximately £1 million.

“He lavished money on multiple trips abroad and there was lavish spending in terms of his lifestyle,” he added.

Sargeant splurged on a total of 158 flights during the period of the fraud, taking trips to New York, Miami, the Maldives, Venice, Barcelona, and Rome, among other destinations.

He bought six riverside log cabins, which he rented out as a business. He invested $600,000 of the stolen money. He also spent thousands of pounds on designer clothes and blew over $30,000 at a five-star hotel in London’s Soho, according to court documents.

Meanwhile, many of the churches Sargeant was responsible for were unable to maintain their buildings as a result of the fraud and some have closed their doors to the public. Others were “dysfunctional” and had no vicar, prosecutors said.

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