Corporal Audrey Urbina, pictured, was today dismissed from the British Army and ordered to serve nine months detention after she was found guilty of fraudulently booking more than £15,000 of flights for friends and family using military money
A judge today today accused the Ministry of Defence of a ‘systemic failure in auditing’ after a soldier managed to blow more than £15,000 of military money on luxurious long-haul trips for her and her loved ones.
Corporal Audrey Urbina – who served in Afghanistan – abused her Army access so she could have her own ‘personal free travel agency’ to treat family and friends to dozens of flights.
Sentencing her to nine months in detention and sacking her from the British Army, Assistant Judge Advocate Alan Large launched a scathing attack on Ministry of Defence procedures which left it vulnerable to such as ‘unsophisticated fraud’.
He said: ‘There has been a systemic failure in auditing.
‘The system was open to abuse and it appears there were totally inadequate checks, which allowed you to go undetected for so long.
‘If not already done so, I suggest the system and auditory trails are reviewed with some urgency.’
The court heard the former beauty pageant winner was employed to arrange official Army travel but instead whisked loved ones living in the UK and abroad to destinations including Cancun, New York, Belize, Miami and Frankfurt.
Her ‘blatantly dishonest’ 17-month scam saw her fly out on ‘jollies and holidays’ wherever she liked, including while she was on maternity leave.
The fraudster – originally from Belize – was today sentenced to nine months’ detention to be served at a military corrective training centre, in Colchester, Essex, and was dismissed from the armed forces.
It came after she was convicted of 14 counts of fraud and one count of making a false official record after trying to create a NATO Travel Order – which allows soldiers to travel – for her family.
The 32-year-old – who has served in the Army 10 years – was cleared of a further count of fraud at her three-day trial at Bulford Military Court, Wiltshire.
A panel-of-five heard that Urbina, of Worthy Down Support Branch, near Winchester, Hampshire, phoned travel providers Hogg Robinson Group and gave her unique Army ID code to fraudulently arrange flights.
Urbina, pictured outside Bulford Military Tribunal during an earlier hearing, had served in the army for 10 years. She was found guilty of an ‘unsophisticated fraud’ by using the army as her own ‘personal travel agency’
On one occasion, the married woman paid £263 on top of a flight for an extra 10kg luggage.
In one month, she bought flights for a ‘Pauline Augustine’ – understood to be her sister – from Belize to London via Miami, then onto Manchester before later going to New York, Miami, and Belize again.
Other purchases included a return flight from Cancun to Frankfurt, Bristol to Dusseldorf, Cancun to Manchester, and Belize to Manchester via Atlanta.
The admin worker also spent £1,900 on flights for her and husband Justin to travel from Manchester to Chicago then onto Miami and then Belize.
Sentencing, the judge told her: ‘This was a prolonged fraud, resulting in a significant loss.
‘Despite personal mitigation, the case is so serious that you must be dismissed from the British Army and reduced through the ranks.’
He added: ‘This was not a one-off fraud, but blatant dishonest conduct.
‘The fraud, whilst persistent, was unsophisticated – your name and service number were on every transaction.
‘It is a great pity that you did not accept the overwhelming evidence against you.’
Urbina told her trial she thought she was entitled to book the trips as they were for her dependants and wanted her family to have a ‘better life’
Urbina told her trial she thought she was entitled to book the trips as they were for her dependants and wanted her family to have a ‘better life’.
Her failing marriage was also blamed for her extravagant spending spree, with the ‘desperate’ mother-of-two claiming she only started flying her sisters in and out of the country to help manage the household.
Giving evidence during her trial, the non-commissioned officer said: ‘I felt that anyone I helped support was my dependant.
‘My parents are from Belize, I wanted to help my family have a better life. I send 50 per cent of my money back to Belize to my parents and my sisters.
‘I thought my dependants were those who I financially support and those in my household and also my friends who I consider to be as close as family.’
She argued: ‘My belief that I could pay back the money made it not wrong.
Sentencing Urbina, Judge Advocate Alan Large said: ‘It is a great pity that you did not accept the overwhelming evidence against you.’ He ordered her dismissal from the British Army and said she must serve nine months’ military detention at nine months’ detention to be served at a military corrective training centre, in Colchester, Essex
‘I wanted to find someone to speak to about paying it back. I put aside a bit of money each month but because I felt isolated in the Army I felt like I could not talk to anyone.’
Prosecutor Rupert Gregory told the trial: ‘Cpl Urbina used Defence Travel as her own personal free travel agency – she would regularly buy flights and rail travel for her friends, family and her dependant.
‘This was Cpl Urbina and her family going off on a jolly, on a holiday.’
Detailing the method of her fraud, he had added: ‘Cpl Urbina is a Class 1 admin worker who had access to book flights and rail travel and the knowledge about the process that comes with those responsibilities.
‘She had access to Defence Travel [DT] and is able to book duty travel for the MoD.
‘DT has to be used when booking official travel and cannot be used for personal travel. She booked through Hogg Robinson Group, which is one of the providers.
‘Cpl Urbina held what’s called a booker profile and over the phone booked flights to places like Cancun in Mexico.
Prosecutor Rupert Gregory told the trial: ‘Cpl Urbina used Defence Travel as her own personal free travel agency – she would regularly buy flights and rail travel for her friends, family and her dependant. ‘This was Cpl Urbina and her family going off on a jolly, on a holiday’
‘When booking, one must have a private army email and Unit Identification Number, and a purpose of travel code.
‘When Cpl Urbina booked flights and rail for her immediate family through Hogg Robinson Group she asked that the confirmation was sent to her personal email address rather than the MoD.
‘That was clearly not procedure.’