A CHESTER pensioner is among elderly victims conned out of more than £600,000 by a gang whose leading members have been jailed.
Winifred Owen, 83, of Great Boughton, was tricked into giving her signature to visiting salesman Paul Williams who then forged it on a cheque stolen from her handbag as she made him a drink. He stole £14,750 from her account and £7,840 from the account of another OAP, Beatrice Price, 80, from Hooton.
Chester Crown Court heard the gang extracted most of its proceeds by tricking elderly victims into handing over their life savings for non-existent or unnecessary building work.
In each case, the defendants built a relationship of trust with the victim before using it either to commit fraud or theft.
Judge Nicholas Woodward described the scam as ‘truly heartless’.
Williams, 50, from Deverill Road, Tranmere, was jailed for 18 months.
Co-accused Mark Dodd, 50, of Booker Avenue, Liverpool, who was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud £445,000 following a trial, was jailed for five years.
Neil Jones, 38, of Dibbins Hey, Spital, Wirral and Kevin Sweeney, 37, of Lime Cottage, Druids Cross Road, Liverpool, who each admitted three counts of conspiracy to defraud £534,535, were jailed for four and four-and-a-half years respectively.
Sweeney’s wife Nicola, 38, pleaded guilty to money laundering £57,000, for which she received a 10-month suspended sentence.
The court heard the late Beatrice Price, 80, of Hooton, whose mental state was failing, was fleeced of £57,000 for minor repair work worth just £1,300.
While purporting to help Mrs Price with her banking, Jones was actually transferring additional funds into her current account, enabling the defendants to help themselves to as much money as they could identify.
Judge Woodward said the case had increased the strain on Mrs Price who had to move into a care home and died last month.
By far the largest fraud was against retired GP Dr Peter Grant, in his 60s, who was charged £532,000 for building work on his house in Prenton and his late mother’s home in Liverpool estimated to be worth just £65,000.
Dr Grant’s sister, who has special needs, had lived with their mother until her death when she went to live in supported accommodation.
The retired GP knew one or both of the houses had to be sold, and both required some work to make them presentable.
Defendant Jones, who held himself out as connected with a firm of estate agents, steered building work toward another company he part-owned and persuaded Dr Grant to accept a lower asking price on Lime Cottage in Liverpool that was sold to Nicola Sweeney, who, unknown to Dr Grant, was the wife of one of the men doing the work. The undervalue is estimated to be at least £40,000.
Judge Woodward said: “This con was reminiscent of the type of activity sometimes glorified in Hollywood films.
“It was an enterprise in which each of you entered into the scene at different stages playing different characters all of whom appeared to be independent and unconnected.”
Sentencing the gang members, he told them: “You were ruthless in extracting every single penny you could obtain, despite the fact that you must have realised that you had cheated people out of what was their accumulated life savings when they would be unable to start again having regard to their age and situation.
“These were truly heartless offences and they left your victims both emotionally and financially bereft.”