FORMER Welsh Premier player Cortez Belle avoided a prison sentence after being found guilty of stealing more than £15,000 from a Cardiff school to pay-off hefty gambling debts after losing his career earnings.
The 33-year-old, who has played in the WPL for Connah's Quay, Carmarthen, Llanelli and Port Talbot, had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of position and one of theft by employee.
Belle, from Newport, admitted two counts of fraud by abuse of position and one count of theft by employee. Cardiff Crown 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.
Lucie Stoker, defending, stressed her client had no previous convictions and made “full and frank” admissions in his police interview. 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.
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.”