Money mules who laundered funds for rogue traders who scammed elderly sentenced

Hodge, Asif, Pemberton, Turner, Egan and Stinchcombe
Top L-R: Hodge, Asif, Pemberton. Bottom L-R: Turner-Belshaw, Egan and Stinchcombe Credit: Wiltshire Council

A group of people who laundered money for rogue traders who had scammed elderly people have been sentenced for their role in the £250,000 scheme.

Two elderly people were scammed out of tens of thousands of pounds each by rogue traders who claimed to be carrying out guttering work.

The rogue traders then managed to secure further payments for roof repairs which were not needed. The 'repairs' were either not carried out or done poorly.

One of the victims was then targeted by other rogue traders who claimed they could "fix" the shoddy work.

Six people who acted as money mules have now been sentenced at Swindon Crown Court for their role in the scheme.

What is a money mule?

According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), a money mule is someone who lets someone else use their bank account to transfer money, often keeping a little bit for themselves.

Wiltshire Council says the investigation involved its own Trading Standards officers as well as those from Trading Standards teams working nationally and across the wider South West.

The investigation began in August 2019 when officers visited an 80-year-old man in Bradford-on-Avon.

The pensioner had been quoted £2,800 for guttering work and had gone on to pay £55,000 for the installation of a new roof.

When Trading Standards teams visited, minimal work had taken place and it was clear the roof was in good condition and did not need replacing.

Despite this, the victim had paid £36,000 to Serena Hodge, from Grays in Essex, as well as a further £19,000 to Chippenham man James Stinchcombe.

Neither Hodge or Stinchcombe ever visited the property but they agreed to receive the payments into their bank accounts. While they kept some for themselves, they withdrew the bulk of the money in cash and gave it to the rogue traders.

Trading Standards then identified a second victim from Chippenham who had paid £41,790 for roofing work into the account of Hodge’s partner, Patrick Egan.

Hodge, Stinchcombe and Egan all pleaded guilty to money laundering offences and were sentenced to the following during a hearing at Swindon Crown Court on 24 November:

  • Egan, 35 - two years in jail

  • Hodge, 37 - 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, as well as 150 hours of unpaid work

  • Stinchcombe, 39 - handed a two-year community order, 30 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work

Second victim identified during investigation

As Trading Standards carried out its investigation, officers found a second victim who had been cold-called by roofer Jamie Smith, from St Austell.

The victim was quoted £7,450 for a guttering repair and went on to pay £9,850 into the account of a 40-year-old man from Chippenham. This money has since been refunded.

However, two further payments were made to 35-year-old Arfan Asif who pleaded guilty to laundering £8,000 of the victim’s money.

Asif, of Yarm in Cleveland, was sentenced to an 18-month community order, 20 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work.

Smith did carry out roofing work at the elderly man's property - but shoddily. The victim was then targeted by other rogue traders who said they could "fix" this faulty work.

In August last year, Smith was jailed for three years and three months after admitting defrauding more than a dozen householders.

While the victim in this case suspected he'd been scammed and refused to make any more payments, he was then called by someone pretending to be from Trading Standards.

The man asked for a payment of £74,650 towards investigation costs into an account he believed was controlled by the Crown Court.

In reality, the money was going into the account of 42-year-old Claire Pemberton which she later withdrew in cash. Pemberton pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Pemberton, of Oldham, was handed a 15-month community order, 25 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work.

Liam Ben Turner-Belshaw, of Chadderton in Oldham has admitted to attempting to defraud the victim of £37,000 by impersonating an HMRC officer. The 35-year-old was handed a six month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

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'Money laundering is not a victimless crime'

Wiltshire Council's cabinet member for public protection Cllr Nick Holder said its Trading Standards team will do all that they can to protect residents from rogue traders and criminal attacks.

“Money laundering is not a victimless crime," he added. "As this case shows, anyone who allows their own bank accounts to be used to transfer criminal money, can themselves end up with a criminal record.

“A person can be found guilty of a money laundering offence if the money that they receive is criminal property and they were aware or had reason to suspect that it is from criminal activity."

Chair of National Trading Standards Lord Michael Bichard said: “This was a serious case of organised fraud that saw significant sums of money taken from elderly and vulnerable victims before being laundered.

“We are pleased to have been able to provide support to Wiltshire Council Trading Standards and I want to thank all those involved for their tireless efforts to bring the money mules that made this fraud possible to justice.

“This sentence sends a clear signal that this sort of offending will not be tolerated and that we will support colleagues locally to protect consumers across the country.”

If anyone believes they might be caught up in money laundering or suspect someone is acting as a money mule they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.