Money mules sentenced for their part in £250,000 money laundering case
Six individuals have been sentenced at Swindon Crown Court, for their part in the defrauding of two elderly residents by acting as money mules and laundering money.
This follows an investigation by Wiltshire trading standards officers, supported by the National Trading Standards South West Regional Investigation Team.
In August 2019, Wiltshire Council trading standards officers visited an 80-year-old man in Bradford-on-Avon. After an initial quote of £2,800 for guttering work, he had gone on to pay £55,000 for the installation of a new roof. At the time of their visit, minimal work had taken place, and it was apparent that work to the roof was not required. The victim had paid £36,000 into the account of Serena Hodge (47) of Grays, Essex and a further £19,000 to James Stinchcombe (39) of Chippenham. Neither had ever visited the property but had agreed to receive the payments into their bank accounts which they then withdrew in cash and gave to the rogue traders, also keeping some for themselves.
During the course of their investigation, officers identified a second victim from Chippenham who had paid £41,790 for roofing work into the account of Hodge's partner, Patrick Egan (35) also of Grays, Essex. All three have pleaded guilty to money laundering offences.
The second victim had been offered a guttering repair and had been quoted £7,450 for the work, following a cold-call by roofer Jamie Smith of St Austell, Cornwall who has since been sent to prison for three years and three months for this and other rogue trading offences.
With the roofing work being carried out unsatisfactorily by Smith, the victim was subsequently targeted by other rogues looking to rectify the faulty work, and he was persuaded to pay £9,850 into the account of a 40-year-old Chippenham male. This payment has since been refunded in full. Two further payments were made to Arfan Asif (35) of Yarm, Cleveland who pleaded guilty to laundering £8,000 of the victim's money.
At this stage, the victim suspected he had been targeted by rogue traders and refused to make further payments. Shortly after, the victim was contacted by another male claiming to be from Trading Standards and was convinced to make a payment of £74,650 towards investigation costs into an account he believed was controlled by the Crown Court. This money was, in fact paid into the account of Claire Pemberton (42) of Oldham, which she later withdrew in cash. Pemberton pleaded guilty to money laundering. Liam Ben Turner-Belshaw (35) of Chadderton, Oldham has admitted to attempting to defraud the victim of £37,000 by impersonating an HMRC officer.
The individuals were sentenced to:
- Patrick Egan - two-year imprisonment
- Serena Hodge - 18-month imprisonment, suspended for two years, 150 hours of unpaid work
- James Stinchcombe - two-year community order, 30 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work
- Claire Pemberton - 15-month community order, 25 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work
- Arfan Asif - 18-month community order, 20 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work
- Liam Belshaw-Turner - six months imprisonment suspended for two years
All six individuals must also pay the statutory victim surcharge.
Cllr Nick Holder, Cabinet Member for Public Protection said;
Our trading standards team will do all that they can to protect our residents from rogue traders and criminal attacks. Money laundering is not a victimless crime, and as this case shows, anyone who allows their own bank accounts to be used to transfer criminal money, can themselves end up with a criminal record.
A person can be found guilty of a money laundering offence is the money that they receive is criminal property and they were aware or had reason to suspect that it is from criminal activity.
The team were assisted with this complicated case by the officers from the National Trading Standards South West Regional Investigation team due to the widespread geographical offending by these individuals. I'd like to express my thanks and gratitude for their support in obtaining this successful outcome.
Lord Michael Bichard, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
This was a serious case of organised fraud that saw significant sums of money taken from elderly and vulnerable victims before being laundered.
We are pleased to have been able to provide support to Wiltshire Council Trading Standards and I want to thank all those involved for their tireless efforts to bring the money mules that made this fraud possible to justice.
This sentence sends a clear signal that this sort of offending will not be tolerated and that we will support colleagues locally to protect consumers across the country.
If anyone believes they might be caught up in money laundering or suspect someone is acting as a money mule they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Sentencing took place on 24 November.