The owner of several tanning salons in Morecambe has been given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work after fraudulently claiming small business rate relief.
Asa Johnson, from Hemingway in Blackpool, appeared at Preston Crown Court charged with eight counts of fraud by misrepresentation.
The court heard that in 2011 Johnson opened a tanning salon on Bare Lane in Morecambe and submitted a valid claim for small business rates relief.
Two years later he opened another salon on Torrisholme Road, meaning that he was no longer entitled to relief because the rateable value of both properties, when combined, were over the eligibility threshold.
To get around this he submitted eight false applications, four for each property and some in false names, over the course of the next two years, in an attempt to show the properties were run separately. In total Johnson managed to avoid £10,377.55 in business rates.
He pleaded guilty to all eight charges of fraud by false misrepresentation and was sentenced to 10 months in prison for each offence (to be served concurrently), suspended for two years.
He was also ordered to pay £3,500 in costs and complete 250 hours of unpaid work. He is already repaying the business rates he fraudulently avoided at £500 per month.
Coun Anne Whitehead, Cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “This was a very complicated case and one of the very first successful prosecutions for small business rates relief fraud.
“It was made possible thanks to the tenacity of our fraud team, who managed to sieve their way through the false documents to find the truth. Business rates fraud is not a victimless crime – the monies raised help fund vital public services including those provided by social services, education authorities and councils. Others thinking of embarking on a similar endeavour should be warned – we will not tolerate fraud and will always take action.”
Suspected frauds against the council can be reported on 01524 582056, or via the council’s website.