Four men jailed over Edinburgh building contracts corruption

Four men involved in an investigation into the allocation of public building work contracts at Edinburgh Council have been sentenced to a total of over 13 years imprisonment for corruption and bribery.

Former council employees Charles Owenson, 62, and James Costello, 44, received tens of thousands of pounds worth of bribes from an Edinburgh-based firm’s staff members Kevin Balmer, 52, and Brendan Cantwell, 44.

The council officials were treated to dances and drinks in lap dancing bars, corporate football tickets and lavish meals by builders trying to seek valuable contracts.

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court today, the four men were sentenced to a total of 13 years and two months after pleading guilty to corruption.

Mr Owenson was sentenced to four years and four months while Mr Costello was given three years and nine months. Mr Balmer and Mr Cantwell were sentenced to two years and 10 months and two years and three months respectively.

The corruption, in contravention of the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, involved the payment of bribes totalling over £42,000 and the provision of hospitality inducements worth over £30,000.

Mr Owenson and Mr Costello also pleaded guilty to their role in laundering £28,387 and £14,134 respectively, and Mr Balmer pled guilty to defrauding the council of a total of £68,909.51.

Mr Balmer and Mr Cantwell were co-directors of Action Building Contracts (ABC) Ltd, a construction company specialising in the refurbishment of buildings.

At its height, the company turned over more than £4 million each year and employed over 70 staff. ABC Ltd went into voluntary liquidation in 2010.

In addition to their prison sentences today Mr Balmer and Mr Cantwell were each disqualified from being company directors for five years

Mr Costello was employed by the council between 1991 and 2011. Between 2004 and 2011 he worked within the Property Care Services department.

Mr Owenson is a painter and decorator who was employed by the council in various roles between 1991 and 2011. Between 2007 and 2011 he also worked within the Property Care Services department.

The case centred on the corruption of Mr Owenson and Mr Costello by Mr Balmer and Mr Cantwell, who bribed the council officials with cash payments and hospitality in exchange for being allocated maintenance and repair contracts.

The “hospitality” included corporate seats at football matches and nights out at bars and lap dancing clubs. The fraud element of the case centred on the contractors’ practice of falsely inflating their invoices to the council in order to cover the costs of the bribes.

Proceeds of Crime proceedings have now been commenced against all accused, with a view to recovering their illegal earnings. The confiscation case against all four accused will next call for a hearing on 12 August at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Following sentence of the accused, Lindsey Miller, procurator fiscal for organised crime & counter terrorism, said: “These four men set about an elaborate scheme to line their own pockets with public funds meant to benefit the people and city of Edinburgh.

“After an extremely thorough investigation led by our specialist Economic Crime Unit, they have been brought to justice and we will now take appropriate steps under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the funds they stole and pay them back into the public purse where they belong.”

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