Money laundering gang set up fake construction firms

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A Lancashire gang that cleaned up more than £1.23 million of ‘dirty money’ linked to a major construction industry VAT fraud has been sentenced.

Keith Wilson, Mark Whiteside, Brian Kerfoot, Bernice O’Donnell and Alan Thompson, all of Preston, as well as Michael Troubridge, of Morecambe, set up a network of sham companies to launder money for an organised criminal gang.

An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found the group registered multiple new companies and most were used as fronts to launder the proceeds of the VAT fraud. Large amounts would be paid into the accounts of each company before quickly being withdrawn.

Keith Wilson, 48, of Castle Mount, Fulwood, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £639,387) and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Mark Whiteside, 42, of Plungington Road, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £159,632) and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work.

Bernice O’Donnell, 44, of Plungington Road, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £60,000, which was also forms part of the total Mark Whiteside was responsible for) was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work.

Brian Kerfoot, 65, of Ripon Street, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £277,500) and was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Michael Troubridge, 52, of St James Court, Heysham, Morecambe, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £131,000) and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Alan Thompson, 60, of Great Townley, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering (value £25,000) and was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 12 months.

Jo Tyler, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These companies were, in the main, set up to create an illusion of legitimate trading when in fact their sole purpose was to clean up the dirty cash of criminal activity. This was money that should have been funding vital public services.

“The gang were recruited specifically to provide a service to help criminals launder their illicit profits and avoid detection, and knew full well they were breaking the law.”

HMRC’s investigation found the scam was linked to a fraud within the construction industry that has already seen 12 people sentenced in 2014 for setting up 23 fake companies to steal £4 million in a VAT scam, with jail terms totalling more than 16 years handed down.

The six sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Friday 16 September 2016 were recruited to help launder the criminal profits.