Former Stevenage footballer Efe Sodje jailed over role in children’s charity fraud
PUBLISHED: 16:42 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:05 23 January 2019
A former Stevenage FC footballer and two of his brothers have been jailed for fraud after siphoning off money from a charity they set up for poor African children.
Efe Sodje, 46, of Cheadle in Greater Manchester, was found guilty alongside brothers Stephen Sodje, 43, of Bexley, and Bright Sodje, 52, of Sale, Greater Manchester, in 2017 after they took money from their family charity, the Sodje Sports Foundation.
Former Boro defender Efe – described as the face of the charity – was sentenced to 18 months in prison, having received around £7,500.
Stephen, also a footballer, was given two years and six months after receiving around £30,000, while ex-rugby player Bright, who received £3,000 and also signed cheques to other family members totalling £18,000, was sentenced to 21 months behind bars.
Sentencing, Judge Michael Topolski QC told the defendants: “You have brought shame upon yourselves and your family.”
Their convinctions can only be reported after another of their brothers, Sam Sodje – a former Stevenage player himself – was found not guilty of taking part in the fraud at a re-trial.
He and Efe were also found not guilty of taking part in a 2013 scam, where bank accounts were used to channel cash totalling £80,000 from companies around the world.
Akpo Sodje, who also played at Broadhall Way, was implicated but moved to Dubai and refused to return to the UK for questioning.
The court heard how the Sodjes set up their charity in 2009 to help provide sporting facilities to youngsters in Nigeria.
Cash was raised at a number of events, including a charity football match at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground and a fundraising dinner at Charlton Athletic Football Club.
In 2011, a gala dinner held at Manchester’s Lowry Hotel for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital raised almost £11,500, but prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said: “Not a penny went to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.”
National Crime Agency deputy director Chris Farrimond said: “Bright, Efe and Stephen Sodje promoted themselves as generous, community-minded figures when they were knowingly defrauding people who thought they were helping deprived children in Nigeria.”
Efe made more than 130 appearances for Stevenage between 1994 and 1997 and also represented Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup. Sam Sodje – who made three Premier League appearances for Reading – played 32 times for Boro from 2001 to 2002, while Akpo, the youngest of the four footballing brothers, made just one substitute appearance for the club.