TWO money launderers involved in a scam worth over £500,000 have been put behind bars.
Anthony Lea, of West End Road, Haydock, St Helens, and Ian Hollis, Calahonda, Spain, were locked up after processing thousands of pounds of cash stolen from ‘vulnerable’ pensioners in 2011.
Lea, an ex-lawyer disbarred in 2001 for misusing client funds, and Hollis, 59, a bar owner in Spain who did not show up for his sentencing as he is still in the Iberian country, were doing part of an organized crime group that manipulated hundreds of timeshare investors into paying up to £2,000 to run their holiday policies for them.
Reading Crown Court heard how the organized crime group paid off the pair to launder the money through multiple UK and overseas bank accounts before it was withdrawn in cash.
Lea used associates’ bank accounts to make the money laundering appear legitimate and, at the height of her crimes, deposited £180,000 in cash to an ‘unknown person’ at a petrol station of highway.
Their actions were not revealed until five years after their offense when a resident of Tilehurst informed Trading Standards.
What is timeshare and what was the scam?
Timeshare was introduced in the 1970s and allowed people to pay a set amount of money to visit a location each year, usually for a week, according to Forbes.
But they have been banned in Spain and law-abiding ‘holiday club’ policies have been created instead, allowing holidaymakers to travel to different locations after paying.
These policies were indefinite, however, and as investors grew older they could no longer travel as much.
The only way out of the policies was if someone bought them back from the owners.
Reading Crown Court heard how the criminals posed as so-called ‘resale businesses’ named Simple Timeshare Sales and Marketing, Find Me Travel and UK Holiday Consultants in order to do just that.
These companies made attractive offers to buy consumer insurance policies and demanded upfront costs of between £1,000 and £2,000.
After payment, the companies could not be contacted. The policyholders were then contacted by an apparently unrelated company who offered not only to resell the policy but also to recover the advanced costs.
Although consumers are paying thousands of pounds to these companies, 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The money was found to have passed through a number of UK and overseas bank accounts before being withdrawn in cash.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 people who received the funds and committed the frauds were never located and their identities remain unknown.
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To maintain anonymity, the organized crime group secured the help of Anthony Lea and Ian Hollis who authorized the use of their bank accounts in exchange for a fee.
Reading Crown Court heard how Lea passed a bag containing £180,000 in cash to an ‘unknown person’ at a motorway service station while she was at the heart of the scam.
Lea let more than £465,000 slip into her bank account while Hollis accounted for £74,000.
The St Helens man used the bank accounts of a trusted solicitor and estate agent to make it seem like the money laundering was legitimate.
The scam only came to light in 2016 following a tip-off from a resident of Tilehurst, Berkshire, who had been defrauded by the organized crime group.
What happened after the scam was revealed?
Lea was originally charged in 2019 alongside the lawyer and estate agent he used, but charges against them were dropped when it emerged the 66-year-old was using their accounts for his own gain.
Lea pleaded guilty to four counts of acquiring criminal property and a trial date for Hollis was set for June 2020, but did not start until November 2021 due to Covid-related disruptions.
Hollis did not show up for his trial as he currently lives in Spain, and a previous attempt to bring him back to England for hearings was quashed when he presented a positive Covid test which turned out to be false.
An arrest warrant has been issued against him.
What punishments have men received?
Kate O’Raghallaigh, defending for Lea, said her client was unaware of ongoing criminal activity and was simply acting as a conduit for the money.
However, His Honor Justice Campbell rejected that argument and said it would have been “difficult” for Lea to “turn a blind eye” given the scale of the operation.
She sentenced Lea to three years in prison for her crimes and Hollis to 18 months behind bars for four counts of the same offence.
HHJ Campbell said Hollis would be taken straight to jail if he ever returned to the country.
The men were sentenced at Reading Crown Court on Thursday March 24.
What did the authorities say?
Cllr Hilary Cole, from West Berkshire Council, said: ‘This was an extremely complex investigation by highly trained business standards and financial investigation teams into money laundering offenses valued at over 500 £000.
“It was all money lost to the victims of fraud, including the original victim from West Berkshire, which led us to discover the extent of the delinquency.
“We are grateful for the support of colleagues from the National Trade Standards Survey Team in the three regions.”
Trish Burls of the National Trading Standards Investigation Team added: ‘We are pleased to have been able to assist and support the Public Protection Partnership’s Trading Standards Unit in this successful investigation into a complex series of frauds. in advance which often targeted older members of the public, for a considerable period of time.
“Victims across the UK have been repeatedly targeted with offers to sell their holiday and timeshare club memberships.
“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved, the two defendants have pleaded guilty to several counts of money laundering totaling almost £540,000.
“This is yet another excellent example of the collaboration and partnership between the tri-region investigation team and local authority trading standards departments.”