COUNTY NEWS: Fraudsters to pay back illegal gains

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A dozen convicted criminals have to pay back almost all of their illegal gains to their victims, following an investigation by the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit.

Officers have been successful in securing Confiscation Orders at Lewes Crown Court against an organised crime group of fraudsters and money launderers for more than £250,000, those confiscated funds were also ordered to be paid in compensation to their victims across the South East.

The series of frauds which netted £256,000 took place in 2011. The criminals posed as neighbours, couriers and workmen, targeting more than 25 elderly and vulnerable people in Sussex, Surrey, and South and East London with a cold calling scam telling the victims that drains at their homes needed repairing as they were affecting neighbours’ properties. Taken in by the story and being compassionate for the plight of others the victims tried to help and many handed over cash.

After the initial contact in person there typically followed persistent and bullying phone calls where the kindly householder was conned into transferring money believing it to be for the hire of machinery for urgent work, when in fact the money was being received into the accounts of money launderers set up by the ring leaders, who would then withdraw the cash and give it to the ringleaders on demand. Police were on the trail of the offenders from the start and made arrests in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The trial took place in 2014; 12 defendants pleading guilty and further two being found guilty by the Jury. Judge Charles Kemp heard the trial and sentenced all of the offenders in November 2014: The five main offenders received a total of 25 and a half years imprisonment and the remainder received suspended sentences and unpaid work orders.

On 28 September and 12 to 13 November this year the same Judge made the Confiscation Orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) and subsequent Compensation Orders which means that £234,513.65 to be repaid by defendants will compensate the victims. In addition one defendant made a civil settlement already repaying one of the victims £20,000.

So in total £254,513.65 (representing 99.4 per cent of the total loss of the group of victims) has been ordered to be repaid or has already been paid. Each order is enforceable and defendants will have to serve additional prison sentences of up to two years if they fail to pay.

The hearings saw ringleaders James Ward and Wayne Smith ordered to pay £91,500 each from assets that they admitted they held.

Ward, 30, of Twin Willows, Pleshey, Essex, had pleaded guilty last year to two offences of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to a total of eleven and half yeas - eight years - five years for fraud, three years for money laundering, three years for burglaries and six months for bail offences.

Smith, 33, of St Vincents Close, Girton, Cambridge, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to a total of eight years - five years for fraud and three years for money laundering;

Other defendants are to repay as follows;

• Kelly Robinson, 21, of Albany Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Essex. who had been sentenced to two and half years for conspiracy to money laundering, was ordered to repay £128.00;

• Rebecca Clarke, 36, of Huton, near Brentwood, Essex, who had been sentenced to two years imprisonment for conspiracy to money laundering, was ordered to repay £26,387.22;

• Cassandra Knight, 37, of Britannia Way, Warley, Brentwood, Essex, who had been sentenced to 15 months suspended for two years for conspiracy of money laundering, was ordered to repay £22,238.65;

• Terry Phillips, 57, of Wolsey Avenue, London E6, who was sentenced to six months suspended for two years plus 150 hours unpaid work for money laundering, made a civil settlement payment of £20,000. He also accepted his liability for his Legal Aid defence costs of £41,824.52, and accepted a court charging order on his property for that amount;

• Daniel Atkins, 31, of Dunedin Avenue, Rainham, Essex, who was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years plus 150 hours unpaid work, for money laundering, was ordered to repay £439.14;

• Lauren Flanders, 32, of Petersfield Avenue, Romford, Essex, who was sentenced to 20 months suspended to two years plus 160 hours unpaid work, for money laundering offences, was ordered to repay £2,048.64..

• Carly Hodges, 33, of Lucerne Way, Romford, Essex, who was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years plus 180 hours unpaid work, for money laundering, was ordered to repay £12.93

• Bobby Latham (male), 37, of Turpin Avenue, Romford, who was sentenced to nine months suspended for two years plus 100 hours unpaid work, for money laundering, was ordered to repay £5

• Danielle Philpott, 23, of ManorPark, London E6, who was sentenced to 10 months imoprisonment suspended for two years plus 160 hours of uopaid work, for money laundering was ordered to repay £1

• Stacey Robinson, 30, of Philip Close, Pilgrims Hatch, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for money laundering, was ordered to repay £295.45.

The defendants have up to three months to pay what they owe, or else they will have their prison sentences extended, or go back to prison and still have to pay the money.

Victims are to be recompensed as follows;

• Godalming woman, 96, 35,000;

• Durrington man, 75, £500;

• Sutton, Surrey, woman, 86, £5000;

• Littlehampton woman, 90, £2,000;

• Harrow man, 70, £85,000;

• Crawley man, 67, £2,000;

• Cuckfield man, 74, £2,000;

• Turners Hill woman, 70, £5,000;

• Burgess Hill man, 75, £1,000;

• Orpington man, 93 since deceased, £12,730,32;

• Barking man, 81, £4,933.34;

• Southwick woman, 90, £7,000;

• Pulborough man, 92, £67.854,98;;

• Croydon man, 58, £3,495.01;

• Orpington man, 67, £22,000

• Crawley woman, 86,now deceased, £2,000,

The man from Pulborough said; “I would like to thank all of the police who have been involved in this case, who have acted with dogged determination throughout, which has now paid off so successfully. I would like to say a huge thank you as not only have you kept us informed throughout, you have also explained everything in complete, but not complicated, detail!. I really am very grateful to you for helping us through this. Fingers crossed now that they all pay up!”

Detective Constable Fleur Jones, said, ‘This has been a long and complex investigation, but it is good that POCA has now been used to make criminals pay back what they took, and help redress the damage that these heartless individuals have done to these victims and families lives. Sadly, some of the victims have died since the investigation started, but we hope that the money will finally get to those family members it was intended for.”

Detective Inspector Mick Richards said; “Ward and Smith were the ringleaders of this heartless conspiracy to defraud trusting and often vulnerable people in their own homes.

“An important part of bringing these offenders to justice has been the collaborative work with our partners from Trading Standards and Sussex Adult Social Care who have assisted throughout the process with the sharing of information and ongoing care for the most vulnerable of our victims together with alert members of local banking staff who were able to raise concerns about their customers.

“Wayne Smith targeted the potential victims and made telephone contact with them. After the initial contact the fraud was conducted over the telephone. The victim would be continually harassed over the telephone until payment was made. In a few cases a payment was made in cash but most of the payments extracted from the victims were by way of bank transfer. He would typically ask the victim for a large sum of money on the promise that the supposedly essential work would start very shortly.

“If the victim did not agree immediately, they would be bombarded with calls. The victims were persuaded by a combination of bullying persistence and tales of the hardship caused to their neighbours. So it was not just their insecurity but also their good nature that was cynically exploited. These conmen preyed on the victim for further payments until either they refused to pay more or their funds were exhausted. In some cases the victims ended up handing over their life savings.”

“James Ward was the man behind the money laundering. He was Smith’s main accomplice and played a pivotal role in recruiting the money launderers and communicating with them. Typically the money launderers were people known to Ward either directly or through family or his girlfriends. The money launderer would agree to provide bank account details and was directed by Ward as to when to withdraw cash from the account.

“The criminals sought to remain anonymous by using a variety of mobile phones, bank accounts , aliases and spreading their offending over a wide area, however these seemingly separate crimes across the south of England were gradually linked by our thorough and diligent investigation and the painstaking analysis of evidence.

A son of Mr and Mrs Jonas and Eileen Chambers, who were victims when living in Orpington but who have both since sadly died, said; “My parents were both in their late 80’s when they were targeted and conned out of a considerable sum of money by this gang. Unfortunately neither of them lived long enough to witness the hard work and dogged persistence shown by these two officers in bringing these parasites to justice. Especially well done in producing such a weight of evidence that most were forced to plead guilty !

“So, on behalf of my late parents, I would like to say thanks to all involved in bringing this sad matter to its best possible conclusion.”

Another victim, a woman living in near Crawley in Mid-Sussex said at the end of the trial in 2014; “I continue to kick myself for having been so stupid to part with so much money and putting myself in an overdraft situation but the story given by the scammers seemed so genuine that I was taken in. They certainly did a lot of homework to create their case.

“The whole experience has continued to cause me stress as each time the telephone rings I wonder if it will be the start of another scam rather than looking forward to the prospect of talking to a friend of mine.

“I am constantly wary of unknown callers to the house whether they be on foot or in a car or van. If they have merely taken a wrong turning I wonder if they are having a good look around.”

Police remind everyone to look at the Operation Signature DVD on ‘YouTube’ or on the Sussex Police website here which gives advice about the type of frauds and scams to which we are all vulnerable, especially elderly and vulnerable people. Please share it with anyone who may not be able to access it themselves.

Remember, don’t give or transfer money to people you don’t know, no matter how convincing or genuine they seem,

Never give your PIN number and cash card to ANYONE.

Don’t believe anyone who cold calls when they tell you your drains are blocked or your roof needs repairing.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’, shut the door, put down the phone and check with someone you trust.

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