The 17 men and three women were arrested by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers during an investigation that revealed construction-related tax offences and money laundering over a two-year period.
Investigators uncovered a large and complex web of illegal activity involving more than 100 businesses. Subcontractors were employed off-record and the gang members pocketed income tax and national insurance contributions due to be paid to HMRC. Fake invoices, supposedly for providing labour, had also been created to claim VAT refunds to which the gang were not entitled.
HMRC investigators carried out searches at more than 40 homes and offices across the UK in September 2009. They seized paperwork, computers, class A drugs and almost £170,000 in cash from 11 business properties in the West Midlands and Manchester. Smaller quantities of US dollars and Euros were also discovered.
All defendants have now been sentenced following three separate trials at Birmingham Crown Court, and reporting restrictions have been removed.
HMRC assistant director Colin Booker said: “Today’s final sentencing brings to an end a six-year investigation, centred on a highly organised and complex fraud, undertaken by a group of individuals who cared for nothing but their own financial gain.
“HMRC is investing more time and resources than ever into identifying fraud. Our work does not stop at sentencing, but at depriving those involved of the proceeds of their crimes. Confiscation action will follow, as we attempt to recoup some of the £8 million the gang so shamelessly stole from the taxpayer.”
Birmingham Crown Court sentenced the following defendants yesterday following a 13-week trial:
- Anthony O’Neill, aged 41 and from Bolton, Greater Manchester, had denied five charges of VAT fraud and conspiracy to launder money. He was jailed for eight years.
- Michael Maguire, 43 and from Bury, also denied five charges of VAT fraud and conspiracy to launder mone. He was jailed for five years and nine months.
- James Keith Radford, 53 and from Manchester, similarly had denied five charges of VAT fraud and conspiracy to launder money. He was jailed for six years.
- Stanley Turner, 62 and from Blackpool,had denied a fraud offence and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment suspended for two years.
- Christopher Standring, 47 and from Bury had admitted five charges of VAT fraud and conspiracy to launder money and was jailed for five years and six months.
The following defendants were sentenced after separate earlier trials:
- Bernard Harper, 58 and from Halesowen, was described as a construction boss and was described by the judge as “the centre of the fraud and an organiser of it”. He was jailed for eight years.
- Steven Jeremy Bache, 52 and from Stourbridge was jailed for three years and six months. He is an accountant who used his expertise to in a bid to evade HMRC controls.
- Kelly Nicholls, 36 and from Brierley Hill, was jailed for five years. She produced invoices and helped with administration tasks connected to the fraud.
- Susan Coussens, 55 and from Stourbridge, had denied money laundering and fraud charges but was jailed for four years. Like Kelly Nicholls, Coussens produced invoices and helped with administration tasks in the fraud.
- Helga Lowndes, aged 48 and from Stafford, was jailed for two years.
- Simon Clifford Davies, 46 and from Redditch, was jailed for four years.
- Anthony Smith, 36 and from Brierley Hill, West Midlands, admitted cheating the revenue and was jailed for five years and one month. A former bank manager, Smith is also the partner of Kelly Nicholls and was described by the judge at sentencing as Harper’s “lieutenant and the office manager” when he was not present.
- Stuart Henderson Barrett, aged 57 and from Tividale, admitted conspiracy to cheat the revenue and money laundering and was jailed for four years and three months. Stuart Barrett ran a security company alongside his son Steven Barrett, and collected some of the fraud’s proceeds from various banks.
- Steven Lee Barrett, 34 and from Walsall, admitted conspiracy to cheat HMRC and money laundering, and was also imprisoned for four years and three months. The judge said that both Barretts were “heavily involved” in the fraud.
- Richard Ruddick, 45 and of no fixed abode, had admitted VAT fraud and was jailed for one year and eight months. Ruddick acted as an intermediary between the off-record workforce and the company that contracted them. He was described by the judge at sentencing as “at the coal face” during the fraud.
- Craig Ross Hill, 50 and from Tividale, admitted conspiring to cheat the revenue and was jailed for four years and three months. Hill was a director for two of the sham companies created as part of the scam.
- John Caulfield, 42 and from Hall Green, Birmingham, had admitted cheating the revenue and was jailed for four years and three months.
- Ian Siviter, 38 and from Tividale, admitted cheating the revenue and was jailed for four years and three months. He was a director for two of the sham companies created as part of the scam.
- Timothy O’Loughlin, 55 and from Bristol, admitted conspiracy to launder money and was jailed for three years and nine months.
- Neil Hughes, 50 and from Bromsgrove, admitted cheating the revenue and was jailed for four years and three months.