Former police sergeant among six convicted over £5.7m escort agency scam


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The Independent Online

Six people have been convicted for their part in a £5.7 million fraud after a court heard they conned members of the public in an online escort agency scam.

Among those convicted were former West Yorkshire Police fraud specialist Detective Sergeant Christopher Taylor and the gang's linchpin, Antoni Muldoon, who had previously been convicted in Spain for his part in a Costa del Sol time-share scam.

The 10-week trial at Ipswich Crown Court heard how multiple companies were set up as part of a fraud and money laundering operation that encouraged victims to part with cash in return for work as non-sexual escorts and in a separate debt elimination scheme.

During the investigation, it was found that money obtained through the fraud was used to buy property and boats for Muldoon, including a 10 bedroom villa worth over £500,000, Suffolk County Council said.

As jurors returned their final verdicts in the case late last night, trading standards bosses said a total of 17,300 victims had lost out.

Stuart Hughes, senior investigation officer at Suffolk Trading Standards, said: "False promises and false hopes were offered to consumers regarding the likelihood of work or ability to clear debts.

"None of those promises were met. For the victims, the outcome was devastating and left them in a worse financial position than they were before.

"The fraud was founded on deceit, dishonesty and greed, demonstrated by a series of lies made to consumers, banks and enforcement agencies over a long period in order to perpetuate the fraud. Through this verdict, those lies have finally been found out."

Taylor, 57, from Wakefield, and Bradley Rogers, 29, from Malaga, were found guilty of money laundering but cleared of conspiracy to defraud, the council said.

On Friday Mark Bell, 41, from Westerfield, near Ipswich, Colin Samuels, 61, of Redgrave, Suffolk, and Geraldine French, 60, from Spain, were each found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to defraud.

Muldoon had already admitted conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

They will all be sentenced next month.

In the escort fraud cases, 14,000 UK victims were enticed to register for a £250 to £450 fee in the hope of earning income by accompanying clients on dates, events and dinners.

Once the fees were paid the dates were cancelled and no work would materialise.

In the debt elimination cases, some 3,300 victims were cold called and told that any credit agreements they had entered into prior to 2007 were unenforceable and that debts could be written off for an upfront fee of between £540 to more than £2,000.

Millions of pounds poured through various bank accounts linked to the frauds with some being funnelled to accounts in Spain.

Detective Sergeant Allan Forbes, from Suffolk Police, said: "The case is one that was made difficult by the suspects operating outside of the United Kingdom, but liaison with UK and European Law Enforcement Agencies, plus the use of European Arrest Warrants allowed the inquiry to pursue justice on behalf of the numerous victims who could ill afford to lose the money they lost to this criminal enterprise."

Efforts will now be made to seize the gang's assets through the courts.