A CONMAN who was part of the Lord Mayor’s fundraising committee has been found guilty of cheating people out of money in a property scam.
Questions have been raised about why Callum Finnegan, who has previous convictions for assault, perverting the course of justice and obstructing the police, was allowed on the body that raises money for the Portsmouth Lord Mayor’s appeal.
Outgoing Lord Mayor Cheryl Buggy said his involvement had only extended to ‘baking a few scones’ and it was not realistic to check volunteers’ criminal records.
But while he was helping organise coffee mornings for the appeal, he was awaiting trial for conning couples out of hundreds of pounds, for which he was found guilty and is to be sentenced.
Conservative Cllr Steve Wemyss said: ‘In my opinion it was wrong for this person to be on the Lord Mayor’s committee.
‘Clearly this court hearing has been in the offing for some time.
‘Anyone on the committee should be beyond repute and someone who has been convicted of fraud clearly is not. It says something about the way it was all run.
‘And clearly well-meaning people who got involved in the committee for all the right reasons don’t want to be associated with this.’
Finnegan ripped off trusting couples who thought they were paying him deposits for new homes.
The 26-year-old worked as a freelance tenant finder for local letting agents.
But Finnegan told two couples, Victoria and Nial Giacomelli and Amy Spires and Luke McCaugherty, that if they paid him a deposit the properties would be theirs.
In truth, he had no authority to decide who got the property and when it came for the couples to move in Finnegan simply stopped answering their calls, leaving them out of pocket with no home to move into.
Cllr Buggy has the defended the decision to let Finnegan help with fundraising.
For four months he sat on the committee, which was last year raising money for the appeal Positively Portsmouth: Your Passport to Success, along with her consort and other volunteers.
There’s no suggestion he carried out any improper dealings while on the fundraising committee.
Cllr Buggy said: ‘Callum Finnegan first came to our attention because he was recommended by the previous Lord Mayor, Cllr Paula Riches, as someone who had helped with last year’s fundraising.
‘We were told he was eager to get involved and he turned up to the committee meetings wanting to help.
‘When people come and volunteer to help you fundraise you don’t do a police check on them. When someone comes forward saying they want to help you assume they are telling the truth.’
She added: ‘All he did was turn up to a few meetings, bake a few scones, and then leave.
‘Maybe it wouldn’t do any harm to ask a few questions of people who come forward, but a full background check would be the only way to be sure. And it is very difficult because I’m a great believer in forgiveness. People deserve a second chance.’
A city council spokeswoman said: ‘Callum Finnegan has had no involvement in the city council.
She added: ‘He worked on the Lord Mayor’s Committee which is separate to the council, for approximately four months last year and his involvement in this ended six months ago.’