Ex-Montessori charity boss jailed for fraud

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Philip Bujak, former chief executive of Montessori St Nicholas, has been jailed for six years.

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Philip Bujak, former chief executive of Montessori St Nicholas, who has been jailed for six years

  • Ex-Montessori St Nicholas CEO found guilty of fraud
  • Philip Bujak stole £180,000 from the charity over seven years
  • Mr Bujak used the money to buy and restore paintings for his art collection and pay for hotels for family reunions
  • A police investigation also revealed that Mr Bujak made £100,000 from the sale of a multi-million pound property owned by the charity

The former CEO, who was paid a salary of £170,000 a year, defrauded the charity out of £180,000.

Mr Bujak was chief executive of the Montessori St Nicholas charity from 2003 until mid-2014 and founded the Montessori Schools Association.

He stole money from the charity by using the company credit card to pay for personal stays in hotels and on one occasion to pay for a facial.

Mr Bujak’s most lucrative scam involved the sale of Montessori St Nicholas’s Prep School of 23-24 Princes Gate, a £13m property in South Kensington.

As part of the deal, Mr Bujak agreed with a company called Foris Fortuna, that acted as the ‘agent’ for the sale, that he would receive a secret payment of £100,000.

Following an investigation by City of London Police’s Fraud Squad, Mr Bujak who was the subject of two separate trials at Southwark Crown Court, was found guilty of three counts of fraud by false representation, one count of conspiracy to defraud, and one count of fraud by abuse of position.

In the initial six-week trial which took place in March and April, Mr Bujak was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and three counts of fraud by false representation as a result of the misuse of the charity’s credit card the fraudulent invoices he made to help fund his lifestyle.

The court heard how shortly after joining the charity, Mr Bujak requested a company credit card. The charity’s accountant became suspicious of his credit card use in 2013 and reported it to the trustees. The charity carried out an internal investigation in 2014 and Mr Bujak was dismissed by Montessori after it was realised that he had committed several frauds against the charity. 

Montessori reported Mr Bujak to the City of London Police’s Fraud Squad in November 2014 and a full criminal investigation was undertaken.

False invoices

Between 2012 and September 2013 Mr Bujak submitted three invoices to the charity totalling £4,105, that he claimed were for restoring the charity's artwork. However, the invoices were doctored and the original invoices showed that the restoration was for his own personal art collection, which included several watercolours of warships.

When it came to light that Bujak had been committing fraud against the charity, a thorough investigation of all the invoices approved by Mr Bujak was made. It was found that the charity had been overcharged over £60,000 for printing supplies.

Officers searched the home of the owners of a printing company which the Montessori charity spent over £618,000 with over a seven-year period up to 2014. They found documents relating to Montessori printing work, including several emails and handwritten notes on printing designs showing money being added onto invoices for Mr Bujak.

Mr Bujak and the printing owners used code words when discussing the inflated invoices and it meant he was able to take a cut of the money paid to the printers and also pay for personal printing using the charity’s money.

One of the invoices related to wedding invitations and orders of service for Mr Bujak’s wedding to his wife in 2013.

At court on Friday, Mr Bujak was also sentenced to separate three-year and 18-month sentences to run concurrently with his six-year term.

A co-conspirator Adrian Dugdale was convicted for his part in the fraud relating to the sale of Princes Gate and ordered to pay back £52,000 in VAT. Mr Dugdale received an 18-month suspended sentence.

Sentencing Mr Bujak on Friday (13 July), Judge Peter Tastar said, 'Mr Bujak has an extremely strong personality – I think for the first time in my career, I saw a defendant bullying counsel.

‘The sustained high levels of aggression shown by Mr Bujak were quite extraordinary.

‘Right thinking people will be astonished and appalled to discover what Mr Bujak did in taking advantage as the CEO.’

A Montessori Schools Association spokesperson, said, ‘We welcome the verdict and are grateful to the authorities, who we have worked closely with, for their handling of this matter.

‘This has been a challenging time for Montessori St Nicholas having been let down by someone in a position of trust. Whilst we moved quickly and appropriately, lessons have been learned and our internal process adapted accordingly. As an organisation we remain focused on continuing to provide exceptional educational services.’

City of London Police’s, Police Staff Investigator Jacqui Owen who led the case said, ‘Philip Bujak abused his position of trust to steal thousands of pounds for his own personal use. As the CEO of the charity he was able to control everything and went to considerable lengths to conceal these frauds. He worked together with his friends to pull the wool over the eyes of the charity.

‘The City of London Police has worked tirelessly with the charity to investigate this case and make sure that Philip Bujak was brought to justice and made to realise the sheer immorality of his crimes.’

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