THREE men – including one from Solihull – have been sentenced to a total of 11 years and 1 month for running a fraudulent property repair business which targeted elderly and vulnerable consumers across the Midlands, following a three week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
These sentences came after a fourth individual had already been sentenced on March 17 for his part in the scam.
Lee Evans of Solihull, Andrew Blythe of Coleshill, Mark Hunt of Birmingham and John Brookes of Erdington were brought to trial following a lengthy investigation by the National Trading Standards Central England Regional Investigations Team.
Evans, who ran businesses LJ Evans & Son and LJ Evans Ltd with Blythe, was found guilty of four offences of fraud and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
He cheated consumers across Dudley and Sandwell out of sums totalling nearly £170,000, carrying out building work which was unnecessary, grossly overpriced and extremely shoddy.
Blythe, a co-defendant of Evans, changed his plea to guilty to four offences of fraud on day six of the trial and was sentenced to 4 years and 9 months.
The court heard that the offences took place from 2007 to 2012 and that some victims (all of whom were retired and some in their 80s) were the subject of repeat offending.
One victim in particular paid nearly £130,000 over the years for work which experts valued at approximately £14,000. This victim was repeatedly taken to his bank by Evans to withdraw cash to pay for the unnecessary work.
Another victim in Dudley told the court how Evans and Blythe escalated the job from repointing to complete rebuilding of a chimney stack, with the price escalating to £7,200. When the home owner refused to pay the extra money, Evans took his men off site, leaving her with a hole in her roof at a time when it was snowing. The victim eventually had no option but to pay the grossly inflated price and get Evans and Blythe back to finish the job.
The court was also told how Evans and Blythe often arranged for their victims to make cheque payments out to third parties which included three employees of the business and a jewellery firm based in Birmingham.
Cheques were invariably converted into cash on the same day that they were written out.
Of the three men to whom cheques were made out, two of them were the co-defendants, Mark Hunt and John Brookes, who had earlier both pleaded guilty to an offence of money laundering contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Hunt had already been sentenced to 8 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.
Brookes received a sentence of 16 months imprisonment. The third individual has not yet been found.
When the verdict was returned on 9th March, HHJ Henderson told Evans that what he had been involved with was ‘the grossest cheating of vulnerable people’.
In sentencing, HHJ Henderson told the defendants that they had committed ‘barefaced cynical offences targeting obviously vulnerable people’, and had ‘applied real pressure to get the consumers to have work done’. He continued that these ‘offences were sustained over a period of time leaving the victims feeling humiliated and with a blow to their self-confidence.’
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said: “I am pleased that the hard work of the National Trading Standards Central England Regional Investigations Team has led to these convictions and would like to thank the investigating officers for their efforts. These sorts of attempts to take advantage of consumers – many of whom were in vulnerable situations – will not be tolerated.
“I would urge anyone who is suspicious of work being carried out in their neighbourhood to contact your local trading standards department or the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”