A gang of con artists who stole more than £250,000 from 17 victims - including three from the Horsham district - have been convicted of fraud offences.
Thirteen people were sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Wednesday and Thursday (November 26-27), and five were jailed for a total of 22 years.
The group conned elderly and vulnerable victims in Horsham, Pulborough and Steyning in 2011, as part of a series of frauds across the south east of England.
Victims were told drains at their homes needed repairing as they were affecting neighbours’ properties.
The convictions follow an intensive investigation over many months by detectives from the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit.
Two of the defendants were found guilty on October 6 after a trial.
Kelly Ann Robinson, 20, of Albany Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Essex, was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was sentenced to a total of two and a half years.
Carly Hodges, 32, of Lucerne Way, Romford, was convicted of money laundering. She was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and was given a 12 month supervision order.
The other eleven people had pleaded guilty at earlier hearings.
James Ward, 29, of Twin Willows, Pleshey, Essex, pleaded guilty to two offences of 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. He was also sentenced to prison for burglaries and bail offences to run concurrently with the fraud and money laundering offences.
Wayne Smith, 32, of St Vincents Close, Girton, Cambridge, 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.
Rebecca Clarke, 35, of Thorney Bay Road, Canvey Island, Essex, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was sentenced to a total of two years.
Lauren Flanders, 31, of Petersfield Avenue, Romford, Essex, pleaded guilty to two offences of money laundering and one offence of attempted money laundering. She was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment suspended for two years, and was also given a supervision order and ordered to carry out 160 hours unpaid work.
Stacey Robinson, 29, of Philip Close, Pilgrims Hatch, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.
Cassandra Knight, 36, of Britannia Road, Warley, Brentwood, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit three offences of money laundering. She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment suspended for two years, and was given a supervision order for two years.
Kerry Corcoran, 29, of Marlow Road, London E6, pleaded guilty to attempted money laundering. She was sentenced to a 12 month community order and ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work.
Ronald Buttery, 46, of Ellen Wilkinson House, Usk Street, London E2, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and attempted money laundering. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years and was ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work.
Terry Phillips, 56, of Wolsey Avenue, London E6, pleaded guilty to one offence of money laundering. He was sentenced to six months for money laundering, suspended for two years, and was ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work.
Daniel Atkins, 30, of Dunedin Road, Rainham, Essex, pleaded guilty to two offences of money laundering. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years and was ordered to carry out 160 hours unpaid work.
Bobby Latham, 26, of Turpin Ave Romford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to one offence of money laundering. He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years, and was given a 12-month supervision order and ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work.
Danielle Philpott, 22, of Manor Park, London, E6, who has pleaded guilty to one offence of money laundering, will be sentenced on December 22.
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.
“The victims were carefully selected and targeted on the basis of their vulnerability. Typically they were elderly householders who lived alone. man would call at the door claiming that there was a problem with their drains that was affecting adjacent properties. A while later the victim would get a call from someone claiming to be from a drainage company.
“He would describe the problem as serious and requiring urgent action. Expensive equipment would be needed to do the necessary work and the hire of this equipment required a substantial but returnable deposit.
“He would then ask the victim for a large sum of money on the promise that the work would start very shortly. If the victim did not agree immediately, he 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. Once the first payment had been made and the vulnerability of the victim confirmed, the conman would continue to prey on the victim for further payments that would continue until either they refused to pay more or their funds were exhausted. In some cases the victims lost their life savings.
“Wayne Smith targeted the potential victims and made telephone contact with them. After the initial contact the fraud was conducted over the telephone. The elderly 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.
“Smith and his accomplices then converted the proceeds of the fraud from bank transfers into hard cash whilst continuing to conceal their identities. They needed access to bank accounts that could not be traced back to them. The proceeds of the fraud could be paid into these accounts and then withdrawn as untraceable cash. This process is money laundering.
“Jimmy 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 would be people known to Ward either directly or through family or his girlfriends. The money launderer would agree to provide his or her bank account details. A large sum of money would be transferred into that account. The launderer would be provided with a cover story and would withdraw the money in cash. This often involved a number of transactions, not least because of the size of the transfer. Often this involved test runs whereby the launderer was instructed to withdraw some money at an ATM so that they could be sure that the money had not been blocked, before withdrawing much larger sums from the bank itself.
“These two interlocking conspiracies, to commit fraud and to launder the proceeds, were organised so as to prevent any traceable contact between the victims and the criminals and between the fraudsters and the money launderers.
“All telephone contact with the victims was by Smith. All telephone contact with the money launderers was by Ward. There was thus no contact between Smith and any of the money launderers and no contact between any money launderer and the victims.
“Smith and Ward’s ambition was to ensure that all contact within the conspiracy would be untraceable. In other words they sought to ensure that there was no evidence of relevant contact between the victims, Smith, Ward and the money launderers. They set out to do this by a sophisticated system of using pay as you go mobile phones.
“But they had to be identifiable through their bank accounts. That was the only way the money could be converted into cash. And that was the risk that the money launderers were being paid to take. No doubt they believed that the risk was worth taking because they thought they could not be linked to the original crime.
“They also reckoned without the dedication and sophistication of the police investigation. As these apparently separate crimes across the south of England were gradually linked, our police investigation generated a mass of telephone data which we systematically analysed. Most did not have subscriber details, or had details that were false, but by examining other data including for example the call frequency between phones and using the contacts data to identify users, we were able to attribute phones to Smith and Ward. And we were also able to identify the phones of the money launderers and created a comprehensive picture of telephone contact.
“We know of other people who these criminals tried to defraud, in the same way, out of a total of another £100,000, but who did not lose any money either because they rightly refused to part with it or because alert bank staff voiced their suspicions and ensured that the would-be victims did not go through with the withdrawals.
“The victims who gave statements to us were all prepared to give evidence at court.
“I also pay tribute, as did the court, to the sterling work of our officers including Detective Constables Fleur Jones and Hilary Bennison, who dogged and professional determination ensured that these conspirators were finally brought to justice.
“We will now seek court confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to confiscate money seized from Knight and Clarke. and will also seek court orders under POCA to enable us to monitor the finances of the main conspirators so that if they ever do come into money, or the money they stole is located, we will be able to seize that too up to the value of the benefit that a court then decides that they acquired from their criminal activity.”
Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) for Ward and Smith have been applied for which would have the effect of severely restricting their access to mobile phones, bank accounts, vehicles and cash. Details will be finalised at a further court hearing on 31 March next year.
Mick Richards adds; “This case serves as a twofold reminder. First it sends a message to criminals like Ward and Smith, and their associates, that we will always pursue reports of this kind to seek justice for the victims.
“And second, it reminds all residents, especially the elderly or those living alone, and their relatives, not to be taken in or intimidated by cold call approaches like this. Never agree to anything on the spot, and always look into all available information about anyone who contacts you in this way. Seek advice from neighbours, relatives, and the police if necessary.”