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Former footballer stole £15,000 from high school to pay off his gambling debts

A “greedy” ex-footballer stole more than £15,000 from a Cardiff high school to pay off hefty gambling debts after losing his career earnings, a court heard.

Cortez Belle, 33, who has played for teams including Port Talbot Town, Carmarthen and Merthyr, previously pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of position and one of theft by employee.

Sentencing him at Cardiff Crown Court , Judge William Gaskell told him: “Those monies which would have been available to be spent on children’s welfare went into your pocket.”

Position of trust

The court heard the defendant was working at Fitzalan High School as a staff absence and data manager.

Rosamund Rutter, prosecuting, said: “This case had a serious impact on the school and its staff.”

She told the court Belle was responsible for signing off invoices and diverted £15,747.94 of school funds into his own bank account.

Business manager Andrea Sprudd made a victim impact statement on behalf of the school on Lawrenny Avenue.

Reading from her statement in his sentencing remarks, the judge said: “What you did was extremely upsetting because of your position of trust.”

The court heard Belle’s offending created extra work for other members of school staff, who had to work extra hours and through the holidays to resolve the issue.

‘You were greedy’

Prosecutors argued aggravating features included the fact the defendant was in a position of power.

Belle, from Orb Drive in Newport , admitted two counts of fraud by abuse of position and one count of theft by employee.

Lucie Stoker, defending, stressed her client had no previous convictions and made “full and frank” admissions in his police interview.

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She said he was working hard to overcome his gambling addiction and is hoping to re-train to work in railway maintenance, hoping the work will keep him away from betting shops.

Ms Stoker told the court the dad-of-two is attending evening classes with Gamblers Anonymous and wants to earn more money to support his young family and repay what he took.

She added: “He is exceptionally remorseful for his actions.”

‘Gross stupidity’

Judge Gaskell told the defendant: “I am not excessively sympathetic. It is a problem of your own making – you were greedy.

“You got yourself into trouble and you chose to steal from your employers.”

He described Belle’s decision to gamble as “gross stupidity” and said it was “utterly inevitable” he would end up in debt.

The court heard he lost the money he made during his footballing career and racked up debts of around £15,000.

Judge Gaskell added: “You say you are remorseful – well you certainly should be. You were an idiot to get yourself involved in this gambling and get yourself into debt.

“It had consequences for the school. You have denied the children of the school the benefit of the monies you pocketed for your own benefit.”

Belle was handed a 12-month jail term, suspended for two years.

A community order was made, requiring him to complete 250 hours of unpaid work and 40 days of a rehabilitation activity, as well as complying with a three-month curfew.

He must pay compensation of £15,000, plus £340 towards prosecution costs and a £140 victim surcharge. The judge told him: “You are fortunate not to go to prison.”

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