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'Desperate man' jailed for deception

A 'DESPERATE man', whose travel business was going under, fraudulently took £60,000 from his customers, and gambled away a third of it.

A 'DESPERATE man', whose travel business was going under, fraudulently took £60,000 from his customers, and gambled away a third of it.

The company, run by compulsive gambler Stephen Howard Brownson, 48, was already floundering when he organised a trip to see the Lennox Lewis/Evander Holyfield match in Las Vegas.

But it ended in disaster when the package tour fell through, leaving customers 'high and dry', Chester Crown Court heard.

Brownson admitted 10 counts of deception. He was jailed for 20 months.

He had arranged the excursion in autumn 1999 through his Chester company Sportswide Services.

It started as a genuine venture, but then the arrangements for three/four-day tours of Las Vegas collapsed.

More than 160 disappointed boxing fans missed their chance to see their idols although Brownson still managed to get himself ringside.

While in the US, he gambled away £20,000 a third of the money his customers had paid him.

Brownson, of Fraser Court, Handbridge, Chester, later sent cheques of compensation to them.

But these were not honoured, and trading standards officials at Cheshire County Council were inundated with complaints.

Brownson, who was also an economics lecturer at West Cheshire College, Handbridge, was arrested.

Prosecutor Peter Moss said an advert initially went into the Boxing News magazine in 1999 advertising trips to the rematch in November that year.

The ad, which said package trips were available from £549, was placed by Sportswide Services, based in Hunter's Walk, Chester.

Later, 166 passenger seats were booked on the flights to Las Vegas for the match. The full amounts or deposits were paid to Brownson.

'Of these, 61 received flight tickets and only 15 got to Las Vegas,' said Mr Moss.

'Those who travelled to America thought their accommodation had been organised by him. It had not. They were left high and dry.

'Most did not even get to America. The scale of the problem was huge.'

He added: 'There is no evidence any of the customers ever got to the fight.'

When Brownson returned from the US, he told customers his firm had been forced to stop trading because of its licence.

'That was unadulterated drivel, because Sportswide Services never held a licence. It was the act of a desperate man,' said Mr Moss.

He said a total of £60,000 had been 'misappropriated' by Brownson.

Mr Moss added: 'This was not an operation that was always dishonest.

'But from October 1, 1999, he must have realised that taking further funds from customers was dishonest because he did not have the where-with-all to provide the services they had ordered.'


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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