Former newspaper entrepreneur Bill Alder has been spared a jail sentence for stealing from the Mid Kent Chamber of Commerce when he was chief executive of the organisation more than four years ago.
A judge at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent said it would be "counter-productive after all these years" to put Alder, whose ventures have included setting up the Milton Keynes Citizen and Aberdeen Independent, behind bars.
The best way the community could be repaid for the criminality, he said, was to order 200 hours of unpaid work to be carried out.
The 56-year-old was also saved from repaying the cash he stole and footing the bill for court costs because he is unemployed and heavily in debt.
Alder had been facing charges covering the theft of around £24,000 from the chamber, but his guilty plea to 11 charges involving £1,765 was accepted.
The court was told that he used a credit card given to him to pay for expenses for his own use, including sending flowers to an ex-girlfriend in the US.
Before being given the card, Alder's expenses were about £200 a month. After it was issued, they soared to about £2,000 a month.
Matters came to a head in September 2002, when an auditor's report showed the chamber was making a loss and there appeared to be irregularities.