Two men who were involved in a complex timeshare property scam have been jailed following an investigation by the Public Protection Partnership (PPP) and the National Trading Standards (NTS) Tri Region Investigation Team.
Anthony Lea and Ian Hollis were sentenced to three years and 18 months imprisonment respectively at Reading Crown Court on March 24. Each had pleaded guilty to money laundering offences for their part in the fraud, which occurred in 2011.
A complaint from a West Berkshire resident kickstarted the investigation into the scam, and it soon became clear that hundreds of UK timeshare and holiday club policyholders had repeatedly been 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The money was found to have passed through a number of UK and overseas bank accounts before being withdrawn in cash. The persons who received the funds 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 found that Lea had acquired criminal property amounting to more than £465,000 and Hollis 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 whom 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.”
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.”