Lancashire-based gang in £500k charity fraud scam jailed

David Levi
Image caption,David Levi was jailed for running an identity fraud gang in 2005

A “despicable” gang who conned charities including Children in Need by “at least” £500,000 have been jailed.

Ringleader David Levi, of Lytham, led a “pool of collectors” for charities at supermarkets across the UK for more than six years but made only token payments, Lancashire Police said.

He even wore a fake Pudsey Bear costume in the scam which helped fund a luxury holiday and designer clothes, it added.

Levi, 47, who admitted four fraud offences, was jailed for five years.

Levi, of Fairhaven Road, also pleaded guilty to money laundering, at Preston Crown Court.

In 2005, he was jailed for four years for running an identity fraud gang which tricked people using eBay into giving away their account details.

David Levi dressed in a fake Pudsey Bear costume
Image caption,As part of the con, the gang would wear Pudsey Bear costumes to look like genuine Children in Need collectors, say police

Jenny Davis, of Lancashire Police, said it was an “organised large scale operation” committing “despicable” crimes with the figure they pocketed being “at least” £500,000.

She said Levi ran the operation from an office in Lytham and the gang would go out collecting money for charities several times a week at supermarkets all over the UK.

The group registered with charities as official fundraisers and made small donations then pocketed the rest of the money for themselves, she said.

She added they would have “collected far more” than they would declare and would make “token donations to the charities” to make them appear legitimate.

She said the gang would use fake identities and merchandise in the con so people would assume they were genuine collectors.

Fake Children in Needs banner
Image caption,The gang also used mock Children in Need marketing tools

“We heard of children going over and giving their pocket money into the bucket because they thought it was genuine and the collector would often be wearing the T-shirt of that charity,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said Levi, the “mastermind of the operation”, was enjoying a “cash rich” lifestyle which included expensive cars, designer clothes and spending more than £10,000 on a first-class flight to Australia.

He had an office manger, referred to as Kaysha Beck, who was “arranging all the collections with him and then he had his pool of collectors based around the country”.

She said they would collect at supermarkets in the UK “for pretty much every charity going” including Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH), The Christie, the Children’s Society and MIND as well as the BBC’s Children in Need (CiN) charity.

Fake Children in Need fundraising buckets
Image caption,The gang would use fake merchandise to appear genuine collectors for charities, police said

Police launched an investigation in May 2017 after a referral to Action Fraud by CiN.

Ms Davis said Levi has shown “absolutely no remorse”.

Judge Andrew Jefferies KC said he could only guess the actual amount pocketed by the gang and some deposits of cash with the charities took place when police started to make inquiries.

On sentencing the gang, the judge said: “This was a massive breach of trust. You all exploited the public goodwill and, in some cases, private grief.”

He said one charity’s victim impact statement described how trust in monies given to charities had been “tainted” and another said the lack of trust meant “seriously young children and their families are negatively impacted”.

Beck, 31, St David’s Road South, Lytham, who admitted fraud and money laundering, was jailed for 18 months alongside five other men also sent to prison for their role in the scam.

They were:

  • William Ormand, 64, of London Road, Blackpool, was handed a sentence of three years and four months. He denied four counts of fraud but was convicted after a trial
  • Roy Ferguson, 63, of Park Road, Blackpool, was given two years and five months in prison after admitting two counts of fraud
  • Howard Collins, 73, of Laburnum Street, Blackpool, who admitted two fraud offences and money laundering, received two years and four months
  • Stephen Chesterman, 63, of Eversley Road, Benfleet, Essex, pleaded guilty to fraud and was jailed for 22 months
  • Martin Ebanks, 59, of Oakley Drive, Oldham, was jailed for 18 months after admitting two counts of fraud

Det Ch Insp Mark Riley said when people donate to a charity they would not expect their money to “line the pockets of greedy conmen”.

A BBC Children in Need spokesperson said: “Generous individuals that donate to charity do so to make an impact on those that need it most and given the rising need that has escalated in recent years, the ones most impacted by this case are the beneficiaries of the charities affected.”

A spokesperson for The Christie Charity added: “We are appalled that someone would commit fraud under the banner of claiming to be fundraising for The Christie Charity.

“Our supporters are incredibly generous, kind and committed to the cause and so it is abhorrent to think that some of them donated in good faith believing the money would go directly to cancer patients, when in this instance it wasn’t the case.”

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