A mother-of-two who stole more than £80,000 from Premier League players and a football manager while acting as their ‘lifestyle coach’ has walked free from court despite pocketing the money for herself.
According to Daily Mail, Claire Duke, 38, admitted swindling thousands of pounds from her high-profile clients by taking the money which was meant for her customers’ luxury holidays abroad.
Among her victims were Stoke City striker Peter Odemwingie (pictured below), Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom and former West Bromwich Albion and Celtic manager Tony Mowbray.
Duke, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, swindled the money by setting up a business called Solutions Lifestyle where she advertised flights and hotels at discount prices for her wealthy clients.
The lifestyle consultant would take money for holidays and flights from her customers – but would pocket the cash for herself.
In total she made £82,561.79 fraudulently from six of her clients between April 1, 2012 and July 10 last year.
The court heard Mowbray – who was managing Middlesborough at the time – paid Duke over £30,000 for a hotel in Dubai.
But when he arrived with his family, he found not only had a different hotel been booked but it had not even been paid for.
She also stole £15,437.67 from Nigerian striker Odemwingie, 32, after obtaining his bank details from his debit card.
She also pocketed £6,000 from defender Wisdom, 21, currently on loan to Derby County, after he paid for a trip to Jamaica.
Hugh O’Brien-Quinn, prosecuting said: ‘She was a lifestyle coach and one of her clients was Peter Odemwingie, then a footballer at West Bromwich Albion.
‘He had paid the defendant £7,000 so she could book him flights to Miami. He paid with his debit card.
‘He married his fiancée in May 2012 and his future parents in law paid £7,560 to book a honeymoon.
‘The defendant pocketed that money but needed to cover her tracks and book a honeymoon.
So in April 2012 she used Mr Odemwingie’s debit card details and paid £7,471.12 from that account to another company who arranged the honeymoon.
‘She received £1,000 commission and even handed over the tickets at the wedding reception.
‘She then used Mr Odemwingie’s card again for return flights from Eindhoven to London for a football agent priced at £325.33.’
The court also heard how Duke stole £6,600 from Liverpool player Andre Wisdom who gave her the money to book him a flight to Jamaica.
However, she took the money for herself and then tried to cover her tracks by using Mr Odemwingie’s account to pay £15,160.44 for flights and hotels for Mr Wisdom’s holiday to Jamaica.
Mr O’Brien-Quinn also told the court how Duke swindled former Middlesbrough FC manager Tony Mowbray.
He said: ‘He paid her £10,400 for a hotel in Dubai, but when Mr Mowbray and his family arrived, the room had not been booked and they were accommodated at a less luxurious hotel.
‘Mrs Mowbray’s credit card details were taken at the hotel and when they returned home a bill arrived and £13,016.16 had been deducted from her account.
‘The defendant had not booked or paid for the holiday at all.
‘She told Mr Mowbray the hotel had made a mistake and she told him the money he gave her would go towards his summer holiday in Dubai, although the trip would cost in excess of £30,000 and he gave her another £17,338.
‘In February last year Mr Mowbray found out the hotel or flights had not been paid for and would need paying on arrival.
‘He has yet to receive any money back.’
The court heard how Duke was booking flights with companies who would allow her to put deposits down and pay later.
She also stole from four other clients – one paid her £8,300 for a flight to South Africa, while another spent £5,350 on a holiday to Dubai .
In one case £2,100 was paid upfront to an S. Martin – who turned out to be her 13-year-old son.
Duke was arrested on February 17 last year but continued to offend on bail.
She fraudulently stole another £4,100 after a client transferred the money when she said she could book him flights to California for his son’s 21st birthday.
During her interview she told police she had been in a ‘financial mess’.
Ajanta Kaza, defending Duke, said her client had only managed to pay back £3,500 so far but was due to start full-time employment soon.
She added: ‘My client is extremely remorseful for her actions.
‘She tried to fill holes by using money from other bank accounts, which she now knows was illegal and wrong.
‘She fully accepts that and is terrified at the thought of custody.
‘My client did not use any of the money she made fraudulently on luxury items.
‘The money was used on living allowances, her rent, food and care for her children.’
Recorder David Mason QC told Duke he was not going to send her to jail due to the effect it would have on her family.
He said: ‘I hope that my decision is the right and it is clear that you are terrified of the powers of the court and also accept what you have done.
‘You pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud and you wanted to spend money on luxury items and treats.
‘I have heard and read about your past and the effect that sending you to prison will have on your son.
‘I accept his father, your ex-partner is a violent man and would go as far to say he is scared of him.
‘If you go to prison he will have to live with him so I have to balance this case and see what affect a prison sentence will have on your family.
‘You are now in a relationship with a decent man but he has a deteriorating condition.
‘I accept you want to pay all the money back and you are in decent work with a decent wage. You should pay all the money back..
Duke cried in the dock and thanked the judge as she was spared jail. She was handed a two year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.
After the case, Duke apologised to Mr Odemwingie and said she now just wants to ‘get on with her life’.
Speaking outside court, Duke, who has a 14-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, said: ‘I thought the sentence was going to be worse to be honest with you, I thought I was going to prison.
‘Having a young family is the most important thing to me.
‘This happened a long time ago and I am deeply sorry for all the upset and the stress that I caused.
‘All of the clients that I had, I had very long relationships with them and I have lost their trust and that is the most upsetting thing.
‘I classed some of them as friends, however things are not always black and white, there are some grey areas and that is for me to know and me to move on with.
‘I would just like to pass on my sincere apologies to everyone involved.
‘I just want to move on with things and pick up my life and hopefully I can be in a position to do that now.
‘Peter is such a lovely guy and he’s had so much bad press that he didn’t deserve.
‘I tried to help him in so many ways and he knows that but I fully respect that he had to do the right thing by himself.
‘I am just really sorry.’
A Proceeds of Crime hearing will be held at Stafford Crown Court on July 18.
Sources: Daily Mail