Anthony Lea (66) of West End Road, St Helens and Ian Hollis (60) of Calahonda, Mijas Costa, Spain were today sentenced to 3 years and 18 months respectively at Reading Crown Courtafter pleading guilty to money laundering offences for their part in a large and complex fraud concerning the re-sale of timeshares in 2011.
An investigation was launched following a complaint from a West Berkshire resident, but it soon became clear that hundreds of UK timeshare and holiday club policyholders were repeatedly targeted by an organised crime group based in the UK and Spain. The criminals posed as so-called ‘resale firms’; Simple Timeshare Sales and Marketing, Find Me Travel and UK Holiday Consultants. These firms made attractive offers to purchase consumers’ policies and asked for advance fees of between £1,000 and £2,000. After payment, the companies could not be contacted. Policyholders were then contacted by an apparently unconnected company which offered not only to sell back the policy but also to recover the advanced fees. Despite consumers paying thousands of pounds to these firms, the investigation found no evidence that any policies were actually sold.
The money was found to have passed through a number of UK and overseas bank accounts before being withdrawn in cash. Unfortunately, the persons who received the funds and committed the frauds were never located and their identities remain unknown. To maintain anonymity, the organised crime group secured the assistance of Anthony Lea and Ian Hollis who allowed their bank accounts to be used in return for a fee.
The investigation, carried out by officers from the Public Protection Partnership (PPP) and the National Trading Standards Tri Region Investigation Team, found that Anthony Lea, who pleaded guilty before trial, had acquired criminal property amounting to more than £465,000 and Ian Hollis, who pleaded guilty during trial, had acquired criminal property amounting to more than £74,000.
In sentencing HHJ Campbell highlighted that the original fraud took advantage of many elderly and vulnerable victims. HHJ Campbell stated that LEA was the central person through who funds were laundered and the offence was sophisticated and planned as well as conducted over a sustained period. She indicated that the nature of the offending meant she could only impose an immediate custodial sentence.
Trish Burls, Chair of the National Trading Standards Tri Region Investigation Team, said:
“We are pleased to have been able to assist and support the Public Protection Partnership Trading Standards Service in this successful investigation into a complex series of advance fee frauds which often targeted older members of the public, over a considerable period. Victims across the UK were targeted repeatedly with offers to sell their holiday and timeshare club memberships. As a result of the hard work and dedication of all involved, both defendants pleaded guilty to several counts of money laundering between them totalling almost £540,000. This is yet another great example of the collaboration and partnership working between the Tri Region Investigation Team and local authority Trading Standards Services.”
Cllr Hilary Cole, Executive Member for Strategic Partnerships and Member of the Joint Public Protection Committee, said:
“This was an extremely complex investigation conducted by highly skilled trading standards and financial investigation teams into money laundering offences valued at over £500K. All of this was money lost to victims of fraud including the original West Berkshire victim that led to us unearthing the scale of offending. We are grateful for the support of colleagues from the National Trading Standards Tri Region Investigation Team.
Notes to Editors
The Public Protection Partnership (PPP) is a shared service delivering Environmental Health, Licensing and Trading Standards to over 450,000 people and 10,000 businesses on behalf of three authorities (Partners), Bracknell Forest Council, West Berkshire Council and Wokingham Borough Council.
These services encompass a wide range of areas of responsibility from environmental protection to fair trading, food safety to animal health, housing standards to taxi licensing, and more.
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues.
The National Trading Standards Board funds Regional Investigation Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams – one of which is the Tri Region Investigation Team that provides support to local trading standards services conducting investigations with regional and national implications.