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Illegal immigrant jailed for 'black money' scam

An illegal immigrant was jailed for two years for his part in a "black money" scam tricking victims into paying thousands of pounds for worthless fake notes, police said today.

Jean Jacques Lemonga was part of a team who tricked victims across the country into paying for the counterfeit notes between December 2006 and October 2007.

The 29-year-old illegal Congolese immigrant was convicted of fraud and of laundering £80,000 at Bournemouth Crown Court, Dorset on 13 October.

His 23-year-old wife Rebecca Bowcott, from Birmingham, was also convicted of jointly laundering the £80,000.

Lemonga was sentenced to 18 months for fraud and two years for money laundering, to run concurrently, on Friday 11 December at Bournemouth Crown Court, Dorset Police said.

The Home Office will also consider whether to deport Lemonga at the end of his sentence.

Bowcott was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, during the same hearing with the judge taking the view that she "did what she was told", police said.

A police spokesman said the scam is so-called because the money is dyed black to allegedly disguise it from officials.

The fraudster offers it for a fraction of its supposed value because of the need for a quick sale.

Stories used to convince victims range from an unexpected inheritance or cash being smuggled out of another country.

A real note is then cleaned of the black dye to convince the victim that the notes are all genuine but in fact the rest of the notes are fakes.

During March 2007, Lemonga tried but failed to use the scam on a shop keeper in Bournemouth.

Police said Lemonga and Bowcott laundered over £80,000 of the profits from his frauds between January 2007 and October 2007.

Most of the money was paid into Lemonga's accounts in banks in Bournemouth and the West Midlands.

The rest of the money was spent on renting a luxury flat in Poole and invested in a rental property in Bournemouth.

When the pair were arrested in Poole in October 2007, Lemonga claimed the laundered money was from inheritance and businesses he was running.

Detective Constable Morn Um-Morn, of Dorset Police's economic crime unit, said: "These convictions are a result of a complex year-long investigation by Dorset Police, with the assistance of West Midlands Police.

"Friday's sentencing shows that the public can be confident that Dorset Police's economic crime team will relentlessly pursue the organised criminals who commit these types of offences, no matter how long it takes to bring them to justice.

"Throughout the investigation Lemonga tried to taunt police as he was so confident that he would get away with these crimes - despite these boasts, it's pleasing that justice has been seen to be done.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to warn the public of this type of fraud. Such scams are not common in Dorset, but they can prove devastating to the victims, who typically lose tens of thousands of pounds.

"In these cases, the victims often feel too ashamed to report the crime, although it is essential that they do so."