An animal rescue volunteer has been convicted of fraudulently using £190,000 of public donations to pay for his own property.
Chris Tucker was found guilty by jury following a five-day trial which concluded at Lewes Crown Court on Friday 6 October.
The money was raised for Bexhill and Hastings Wildlife Sanctuary and Rescue between 2017 and January 2019, which Tucker claimed would help to secure his semi-detached house – where it is based – in a trust or community interest company.
He added that the money would be safeguarded officially for good causes and not benefit him or anyone else personally.
However, in November 2019 police received an allegation that Tucker had used the public-generated funds to buy out his ex-partner and take sole ownership of the property.
Following enquiries, the 59-year-old, of Chantry Avenue, Bexhill, was arrested and subsequently charged with fraud by false representation.
He denied the offence, but the crown’s case was proven that he did act dishonestly in order to acquire a valuable property in his sole name.
Following the jury’s guilty verdict, the officer at court Detective Constable Jake O’Reilly said: “In November 2019 Sussex Police were contacted following an allegation that Tucker had made promises to sign over his property to a trust which would oversee the future running of Bexhill and Hastings Wildlife Sanctuary and Rescue if enough money could be raised by supporters.
“When this amount was achieved, it was alleged that Tucker had then acted dishonestly and taken sole control of a large property where the rescue is based.
“A police investigation followed and evidence was recovered that Tucker had made this false representation to several witnesses, as well as on social media and in interviews with local radio. But his financial records and Land Registry papers confirmed the money raised had instead been used by him to take full ownership of the property in Bexhill.
“The result of this fraud was that Tucker had acquired a large mortgage-free house and the rescue – which is not a registered charity – was not safeguarded by an independent trust which would make collective decisions on its future.”
Police Investigator Peters, who pieced together the investigation between 2019 and 2023, added: “This was a long and complex fraud enquiry involving a vast amount of donations and donators who were not given a true account of what would happen to their money. I am pleased justice has been served.”
On Monday 9 October at Hove Crown Court, Tucker was further convicted of one count of contempt of court in relation to messages posted on social media, which he pleaded guilty to, and his sentencing was adjourned to Friday 10 November 2023.