A former NHS Trust chief executive from Solihull yesterday received a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after faking his qualifications to obtain the #115,000-a-year post.
Neil Taylor, from School Land, made an "unprofessional attempt to deceive" by falsely claiming he was a university graduate and had a string of other qualifications, Shrewsbury Crown Court was told.
The 42-year-old was caught after he used a downloaded website logo from the wrong institution on his CV and investigations found the courses did not exist at the time of his supposed studies.
Proof of his qualifications had been needed ahead of a proposed 3.2% pay increase for his post as head of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust.
Judge Robin Onions spared the former administrator jail after hearing a string of glowing references from medical managers, clinicians and surgeons testifying to his ability.
One described Taylor as "a credit to the NHS", while another suggested he was likely to have obtained the post even without a higher education degree.
But Judge Onions told him: "The problem with lies is that they come back to haunt you and you don't know when they come back to haunt you... You simply didn't have those qualifications. You invented them."
He added: "It seems to me that people who lie about qualifications undermine the effort of everybody who goes through a course and obtains a proper qualification.
After imposing a fine of #5,000 and ordering Taylor to pay #2,000 towards costs, the judge added: "You have learned a heavy lesson by your deception. I hope it is a lesson that inventing a degree, qualification, O and A levels isn't a joke. It's serious and will be treated as such."
Taylor admitted one count of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and another of attempting to commit the same offence at an earlier hearing before magistrates.
As he left court, Taylor, who resigned in October last year, apologised for his actions and said: "I did something wrong and the consequences were serious."
The NHS Counter Fraud Service (NHS CFS) brought the case after suspicions were raised about the veracity of his qualifications in April 2004.
Dermid McCausland, from the NHS CFS, said: "Today's sentence reflects the fact that Mr Taylor lied about his qualifications and broke the law.
"Whether it is a hospital porter or an NHS chief executive, action will be taken against anybody who defrauds the NHS.
"Fraudsters need to know that the NHS will not tolerate those who abuse its systems."
The court heard Taylor had previously worked as a medical manager at the North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke before becoming head of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham.
There, he was described as a "first class chief executive" and also praised for his "sound leadership".
In April 1999, Taylor successfully applied to be chief executive of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the following year became acting chief executive of the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.
Under his direction, the two rival hospitals merged. One colleague, a clinical director and radiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury, praised his "dynamism, intelligence and 'softly, softly', non-confrontational approach".
She added: "I don't think any other personality could have achieved it."
But John Snell, prosecuting, said the merger led to Taylor's lies being exposed as the job advert for chief executive of the combined hospitals trust stipulated the need for a higher degree.
On Taylor's 10-page CV, he claimed to have a BA Hons in Business Administration and Economics, a qualification from the Institute of Personnel Development and postgraduate diploma in forensic medicine, all from the University of Nottingham.
"The truth was he held no BA degree in Business Administration and Economics, he was not a graduate of any Institute of Personnel Development and that university ran no such course," said Mr Snell.
"He held no diploma in forensic medicine. Such a diploma at that university required a full academic year's course."
His actual qualifications were said to be six O-levels and "one or two" A-levels. He had also dropped out of the Business Administration and Economics course at the then Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham.
He was given the job but before a national rate pay rise to #128,000-a-year was implemented, he was asked to produce his degree certificates.
The court was told Taylor tried to "bluff" his way out of authenticating his qualifications, claiming they were framed on the walls of his elderly parents house in Workington, Cumbria.
A "clearly fake" CV was eventually produced. Instead of a University of Nottingham logo, Taylor had used a Nottingham Trent University badge.
As well as getting the institution wrong, he had also forgotten that Nottingham Trent University was called Trent Polytechnic at the time he said he was there.
Mr Snell said Taylor claimed to have suffered from sleepless nights, stress and paranoia that there was an attempt to "seriously undermine" him at the time of the offences.
That prompted him to "re-examine and revamp" his personnel file and CV although the same qualifications appeared on his 1999 CV.
Denis Desmond, defending, said his client accepted he had breached his duty to give accurate information about his qualifications.
But he added: "That could easily have been checked and wasn't but that's very often what probably happened in applications for jobs.
"He, of course, made matters worse, by essentially forging a document when he felt his back was against the wall.
"With his experience and ability, he could really have got this job anyway."