Dodgy businessmen bribed council officials to win contracts

Council court case Brendan Cantwell
Council court case Brendan Cantwell

A DODGY businessman who helped orchestrate a massive work-for-bungs scam that rocked the Capital has been ordered to hand over an extra £20,000 in ill-gotten gains.

Brendan Cantwell and an accomplice paid bribes to two corrupt council officials for repair contracts on publicly-owned buildings in what became known as the Property Care Scandal.

Crown officials successfully applied for £21,573 to be seized from Cantwell at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday – after previously confiscating £171,223.

Liam Murphy, Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework, said: “Cantwell deliberately set out to corrupt public officials for his own financial gain.

“Proceeds of crime legislation has a clear objective of maximising the recovery of the proceeds of crime for the benefit of the Scottish people.

“We will continue to pursue criminals like Cantwell to get back as much of their criminal benefit as we can including going back to court where we identify that further assets are available.”

In 2015, a sheriff branded Cantwell, fellow fraudster Kevin Balmer and former council officers Charles Owenson and James Costello an “unholy alliance of kindred corrupt spirits.”

The four men concocted a fraud scheme in which work orders were falsely inflated by almost £70,000 to fund the bribes they paid officials.

On one occasion, Balmer added almost £1,000 to a council invoice for materials and labour given to Costello for free, when the cost was put on a bill for works carried out at Duddingston and North Leith churchyards.

Cash would be handed over in envelopes and Owenson and Costello bought expensive cars – including an Audi and a Mercedes.

The pair, who both worked in the now-defunct property care team, were also treated to around £30,000 of hospitality, including visits to lapdancing clubs and football matches.

Owenson was jailed for four years and four months, while his former property care services colleague Costello was ordered to serve three years and nine months.

Balmer and Cantwell, ex-directors of Action Building Contracts (ABC) Ltd, were handed sentences of two years and ten months and two years and three months respectively.

They were also banned from being company directors for the next five years – putting an end to Cantwell’s role at a city-based scaffolding firm. Proceeds of crime can be seized in stages as criminals come into more money, with prosecutors believing Cantwell and Balmer benefitted jointly from over £450,000.

Sentencing the four, Sheriff Michael O’Grady said their conduct was “the kind of deceit which eats away at public confidence in public administration in the most damaging 
way”.

He told them: “For a period of almost five years you acted together in this unholy alliance, in effect stealing from and manipulating the public purse, almost at will.”

andy.shipley@edinburghnews.com