A nationwide shoplifting scam in which teenage girls as young as 14 were forced into modern slavery netted its ringleaders more than £500,000, it can now be revealed.
The criminal bosses face jail for the scheme, which was masterminded by Isaiah Olugosi, who trained and transported the youngsters to commit refund fraud in high street stores around the UK using faked receipts.
The vulnerable victims were paid for their crimes, and offered perks such as overnight stays and takeaway meals - but if they were stopped by security, they were left by the gang to face the consequences, meaning they could be abandoned miles from home.
The scam made at least £500,000 in just over two years between January 2018 and March 2020 with girls committing a fraud every week, said the Crown Prosecution Service.
The scam worked by the gang putting fake barcodes on items to pay a cheaper price before later returning it for a full refund - meaning a phone bought for £20 could get a £120 refund.
More than 30 teenagers - who were often vulnerable and lived in foster homes or supported facilities - were recruited through social media or approached directly on the street.
A typical day would include theft and fraud from more than 10 stores, making thousands of pounds per route for the gang, which was then laundered through at least 100 UK bank accounts, many seized from adults with mental health difficulties or other vulnerabilities.
Ringleader Olugosi quickly built a network of managers and drivers to ferry the victims around the country, moving himself away from direct involvement in the scam.
Profits used to fund lifestyle
Details of the case can now be reported after the conclusion of the final court case involving Olugosi's gang associates.
Olugosi, 38, of Ely, Cambridgeshire, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, possession of articles for use in frauds, transferring criminal property and conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel or another person with a view to exploitation.
His wife Holly Chapman, 31, admitted transferring criminal property after her bank accounts were used to deposit cash from the scam.
She also spent profits from the fraud on luxury items including cosmetic surgery, tanning sessions, a new Mercedes, luxury holidays, and a £2,500 fridge.
Olugosi trained Baran Karamagara, 22, to take over the day-to-day-management of the operation and he was involved in driving the girls around.
Karamagara pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel or another person with a view to exploitation.
Eva Dambrauskaite, 22, of Buckhurst Hill, Essex, was found guilty following a trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, possession of articles for use in frauds, transferring criminal property conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel or another person with a view to exploitation and possession of a class B drug.
They will be sentenced between 18 and 22 April.
How were they caught?
Olugosi and the gang were caught after information reached police from children's services contacts about the set-up, and cross-referenced with concerns from the two main retailers which had been targeted.
Fraud investigators at the shops had noticed patterns of young girls securing refunds with fraudulent receipts.
Officers executed warrants in London, Essex and Cambridge in March 2020 and arrests followed.
Olugosi was the last to be arrested, having fled to start a new life in Bradford, where officers found him living in a rented room under an assumed name.
Senior CPS prosecutor Marie Olo said: “Isaiah Olugosi recruited, coached and transported teenage girls around the country to commit refund fraud in high street stores.
“The girls were selected because they were vulnerable, with difficult backgrounds or mental health issues, and when they were caught, he was perfectly willing to step back and let them face arrest and potential prosecution.
“When he learned the police had discovered his involvement he tried desperately but unsuccessfully to destroy evidence and hide money.
“Exploiting others for criminal gain is a serious criminal offence and wherever possible the CPS will work with police to help victims escape the clutches of modern slavery, while prosecuting the people who have pulled the strings.”