The largest ever fraud investigation led by Essex Trading Standards, with support from National Trading Standards (NTS) and the Tri Regional Investigation Team (TRIT), has concluded with guilty verdicts, fines and prison sentences for criminals who targeted vulnerable victims with a home energy scam.
The activities of Smart Save Solutions Ltd and its director Carl Smith first came to the attention of Essex Trading Standards in 2017 when it emerged the company routinely cold-called elderly people and exerted pressure-sales tactics. Essex Trading Standards brought a successful prosecution for mis-selling practices at the time.
Smart Save Solutions then branched out into a network of related companies: Greenpowersolutions Ltd (GPSL); Green Planet Advisory Ltd (GPAL); Offgridplus Ltd (OGPL); and Green Power Energy Solutions Ltd (GPESL).
The four companies persuaded homeowners to buy supposed energy saving products and devices by using extensive mis-selling techniques — and turning over approximately £6.5m in the process.
The products sold included ‘add-ons’ to existing solar and electrical systems such as battery systems, PV+s, voltage regulators, new inverters and ‘kill switches’.
Nearly all of the victims, who were predominantly elderly and vulnerable, were cold called by telephone for a free system ‘health check’. As soon an ‘engineer’ arrived at the victims’ homes, scare tactics and lies were used to persuade them to buy unnecessary products.
Victims were told that working equipment had failed or was about to, that existing devices were incompatible or inefficient, that unattainable savings on utility bills would be made, or that new regulations necessitated the purchase of equipment.
Elderly victims were bullied into buying kill switches, and were told that unless they purchased the products the Fire Service would not attend, or household insurance would be invalidated. Some of the devices were vastly overpriced, with the company buying them for £245 and selling them on for £3,500.
Salespeople were incentivised to overcharge victims by receiving 50% extra commission if they further inflated the sales price, with some salespeople earning up to £1,100 commission on a single sale. The vast majority of the products were installed the day after the sales visit.
Many victims were targeted on more than one occasion, with one purchasing a total of eight products from the four companies, paying out just over £30,000.
Councillor Mark Durham, Essex County Council Cabinet Member responsible for Essex Trading Standards, said: “These prosecutions are the culmination of a huge amount of work from Essex Trading Standards and our partners. This was an extremely complex investigation, the largest Essex Trading Standards has ever undertaken, and clearly shows we won’t hesitate to take action where it is necessary to protect the public from fraudulent trading practices.
“I would like to thank everyone involved for their efforts and am proud to see this joint investigation come to a successful conclusion. It sends a clear message we won’t tolerate those looking to take advantage of elderly and vulnerable victims.”
Trish Burls, Chair of the NTS Tri Regional Investigation Team said: “It’s clear to see that profit and greed were the main drivers behind this multi handed-fraud with defendants linked via a network of companies all with one aim, and that was to make as much money as possible mis-selling solar panels and linked products to identified and targeted victims.
“This has been one of the longest running and most complex cases our team have supported to date, and we are pleased to have been able to provide significant operational support to Essex Trading Standards to allow them to carry out their duty in bringing this offending before the court. This joint approach has allowed us to share the load and bring this investigation to a successful conclusion.”
“Once again, this clearly highlights the value of partnership working and demonstrates that together we can successfully prosecute even the most complex and protracted of investigations and protect consumers across the country. Hopefully the sentencing will act as a clear deterrent for those engaged in this type of activity.”
In a long and complex investigation, Essex Trading Standards gathered evidence concerning 47 properties. During the course of the trial, the Court heard from 40 witnesses who had between them lost over £290,000. These were just a small sample of the overall number of victims.
By majority verdict the jury concluded that four of the seven defendants conspired together to defraud the consumers and were also guilty of laundering the extensive sums obtained.
The remaining three pleaded guilty during the trials to lesser offences of money laundering, while two defendants were found not guilty by the jury.
Following the sentencing, Judge HHJ Griffith commended Essex Trading Standards for its efforts on the investigation.
Antony Dean (42) of Waterson Vale, Chelmsford, the director of GPSL, OGPL and GPESL, was found guilty of Conspiracy to Defraud and sentenced to three years for each offence on 25 July. The sentences will run concurrently. He also received a Directors Disqualification Order for 10 years and a Criminal Behaviour Order preventing him from being involved in any unsolicited direct sales business.
Lewis Manley (31) of Challock, Ashford, was a prolific salesman employed by all the companies and was responsible for a third of all sales, receiving £377,534 in commission. He was found guilty of Conspiracy to Defraud and sentenced on 25 July to two years imprisonment for each offence, to run concurrently. He was also found to have breached an earlier suspended sentence, for which he received an additional eight months sentence, totalling two years and eight months imprisonment. He also received a Criminal Behaviour Order preventing him from being involved in any unsolicited direct sales business.
Darrell Smith (30) of Penny Close, Colchester, was also found guilty of Conspiracy to Defraud. The younger brother of Carl Smith, he was described by HHJ Griffith as “the beating heart of the conspiracy” and was responsible for the majority of the office management, installations and financial control of the companies. He was sentenced on 10 August to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, for each offence to run concurrently and 150 hours Community Service to be completed in 18 months.
Carl Smith (37) of Clacton Road, Horsley Cross, pleaded guilty during the first trial under the Proceeds of Crime Act to Laundering £25,319 of payments received from OGPL. He was sentenced on 13 October to twelve months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and 150 hours Community Service. He was also ordered to pay costs and compensation to victims totalling £50,000.
David Mayhew (53) of Caelum Drive, Colchester, was found guilty of Conspiracy to Defraud. As a salesman for the companies Mayhew was responsible for some of the misleading statements and scare tactics used. He was sentenced on 15 September to 18 months and 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, for each offence to run concurrently and 100 hours Community Service to be completed in 18 months. He also received a Criminal Behaviour Order preventing him from being involved in any unsolicited direct sales business.
David Jenkins (50) of Alder Drive, Chelmsford, was the Director of OGPL, office manager and link between the companies and the salespeople. He pleaded guilty on the first day of the second trial to laundering £26,089 of payments received while the Director of OGPL under the Proceeds of Crime Act. He was sentenced on 25 July to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 100 hours Community Service to be completed in 18 months. He also received a Criminal Behaviour Order preventing him from being involved in any unsolicited direct sales business.
Emily Dean (32) also of Waterson Vale, Chelmsford, was the Director of GPAL. She also received £8,620 in payment from GPSL and pleaded guilty under the Proceeds of Crime Act to laundering these funds on the first day of the second trial. She was sentenced on 25 July to 100 hours Community Service to be completed in 18 months.