Seen by millions on TV on Thursday night when he failed to reach the quarter final of MasterChef, James Thomas received a suspended jail sentence the next day for fiddles he carried out when chief executive of a Wrexham-based rugby league club.

Thomas, of The Green, Gresford, who had been chief executive of the North Wales Crusaders, admitted three fraud charges and received a 22 months jail sentence, suspended for two years.

The 42-year-old must pay £66,000 compensation and £1,800 costs and carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Caernarfon Crown Court was told he had failed to provide tickets worth £65,000 for high-profile sports events such as Wimbledon tennis, World Cup rugby and Grand Prix motor sports, had abused his position by obtaining the lease of a £30,000 Mercedes car, and had spent £632 from the credit card of a family friend.

Judge Peter Heywood told a sentencing hearing he accepted that the frauds were carried out in a vain bid to keep the sinking rugby club afloat.

“It’s very much out of character,” he said, “a considerable fall from grace”.

Adam Kane QC, defending, said Thomas had robbed Peter to pay Paul in order to meet debts accrued by the club, which had been at first successful and then struggled.

He came from an impeccable background with two generations of QCs in his family, his father was a distinguished working peer and a grandfather who had been a senior police officer.

Thomas had been married for 18 years with two children and when the Crusaders had been formed took on a £50,000 responsibility. He had taken on financial responsibilities that he simply was not qualified to bear and did not take a wage or salary.

"He paid the players when they were up in arms when they didn't get their wages every month," said Mr Kane.

The club had hit hard times because of its initial success, with extra costs, lower takings because of relatively empty stands and having to cope with injuries.

"What he did was to pay players' wages and bills of the company because he took it as his own fiefdom," Mr Kane said.

After he ceased to be involved with the Crusaders he paid £16,000 to Glyndwr University, owners of the ground.

Judge Heywood said Thomas came from an exemplary background.

"There was no high living. I accept it was a misguided venture to keep the rugby club afloat."

The judge heard that the cash would be repaid from a bequest and a family loan.

There had been a degree of sophistication in the frauds and, referring to the use of the credit card, he said: "It was mean and sneaky what you did particularly to a long-standing family friend and colleague."

Prosecuting, Philip Astbury said the frauds were carried out between 2015 and last August.

One victim was a Kent charity organisation which had paid Thomas £500 for two tickets to a Wimbledon tennis semi-final and auctioned them for £1,700 but never received the tickets.

Another of the 35 victims had turned up at a restaurant as part of a hospitality package, only to find that no booking had been made.

Mr Astbury said Thomas created fraudulent company names which purported to sell tickets for high-profile sporting events including the Rugby World Cup, Wimbledon and Grand Prix motor racing. Prices were inflated by also offering hospitality packages.

Thomas had been instrumental in setting up a new venture after the original Wrexham-based Crusaders, went into liquidation in 2011.

He took responsibility for day-to-day running but it was a demanding role and the club faced a number of challenges, many of them financial.

Victims included a man who paid £636 for non-existent rugby tickets as a birthday treat and another who paid £3,100 for Grand Prix tickets.

Mr Astbury said: "A number of those fraudulent companies used the company registration and VAT number of a legitimate company as part of its fraudulent operation.

"The owners or directors of those companies found themselves receiving a number of complaints from customers believing them to be responsible for the tickets they had not received."

Regarding the credit card of the family friend, Pamela Hargreaves, Mr Astbury said she had stayed at the Thomas home in June last year and afterwards discovered that transactions of £632 had been made.

"Upon reflection she recalled him coming into the bedroom as she slept and leaving promptly when she coughed, although her handbag was there for the entire weekend and could have been accessed at any time."

Mr Astbury said an aggravating feature was that some offences had been committed when Thomas was on police bail.

Judge Heywood told Thomas :"I have read a host of character references and it's clear you are a caring and loving family man, genuinely remorseful and are ashamed of the effect this has had on the family.

“You are a man of previous good character, are genuinely remorseful and ashamed of your conduct.

"You pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and arrangements have been made to repay.

"In these circumstances I can step back from an immediate custodial sentence."