‘The lowest of the low’ - Rogue traders jailed for conning vulnerable and elderly out of £700,000
15:03 15 November 2012
A GANG of rogue traders who conned elderly and vulnerable people across Cambridgeshire out of thousands of pounds has been jailed.
"These criminals are the lowest of the low, often preying on the most vulnerable members of society to extort huge financial sums."
The five tradesmen are thought to have ripped off about 100 customers - pocketing more than £700,000 and conning people out of their life savings.
One victim paid £18,000 for a job which should have cost £500 and another was persuaded to sign over his home to the gang.
Joseph Henry Lee, the ringleader of the gang, was sentenced to seven years after admitting conspiracy to defraud and money laundering offences at Cambridge Crown Court.
His accomplices James William Forrest, Joseph Bellman Jonathan Lee, Andrew Hodson and Owen Sexton, received sentences of between seven months and five and a half years after admitting conspiracy to defraud and money laundering offences.
Judge Nicholas Coleman said the actions of the gang were ‘thoroughly wicked’ and of a ‘predatory and audacious nature.’
The five men had picked on vulnerable and elderly victims, demanding grossly-inflated payment for poor quality and often unnecessary work.
Joseph Henry Lee, 34, of Chesterton, Cambridge, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud 17 elderly and vulnerable victims.
Forrest, 49, of Overbook Nursery, Landbeach, was jailed for five and half years after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Joseph Bellman Jonathan Lee, 25, of Overbook Nursery, Landbeach, admitted two counts of fraud by false representation and money laundering. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Hodson, 29, of Histon Road, Cottenham, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and was jailed for 27 months.
Sexton, 39, of Fletcher Road, Rushden, admitted four offences of money laundering and was sentenced to seven months.
The sentences were the culmination of a two-year investigation into rogue trading activity conducted by Cambridgeshire County Council’s Trading Standards service and the police. Complaints were first received in the summer of 2010.
Cllr Mathew Shuter, Cambridgeshire County Council cabinet member for enterprise, said: “We welcome the sentences imposed. Not only did these people rip off their victims but they have also caused a considerable amount of harm and distress to them too.
“Some victims paid several thousands of pounds for work that didn’t even need doing.
“These criminals are the lowest of the low, often preying on the most vulnerable members of society to extort huge financial sums.”
The money launderers cashed cheques paid by rogue trading victims, taking a cut of typically ten per cent, to avoid alerting banks to the large sums they were bringing in from their illegal activities.
Detective Chief Inspector Jim McCrorie said: “Operation Magpie is a great example of the force’s commitment to work with partner agencies to tackle criminality in the county.
“Those involved in these offences deliberately preyed on the elderly and vulnerable which is completely unacceptable. We will continue to use all the tactics available to us to ensure offenders like these are targeted and brought to justice.”
Financial Investigators are now working to determine the financial benefit gained from the criminal activity - and the next step is to seek compensation for the victims.
Trading Standards officers praised the victims who were brave enough to stand up to the offenders by giving evidence to support the prosecution.
If you think that you, a friend, relative or neighbour has been a victim of a rogue trader, please contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0845 4040506.