Tue, 03 Jul 2012
TWO mortgage brokers and a book-keeper who duped banks and building societies in to handing out millions of pounds in home loans were given jail sentences totalling 13 years.
Between them, Stephen Lamb, Michael Bullock and Ruth Berridge rigged applications by inflating the incomes of clients, Stafford Crown Court heard.
The applications were backed up with phoney sets of 'accounts' compiled by book-keeper Berridge and signed by her with the name of a totally innocent and bona fide accountant.
The scams enabled house purchases to go ahead in Staffordshire and the Black Country, including Lichfield, Tamworth, Willenhall, Cannock, Brierley Hill, Walsall and Hilton near Burton.
Lamb and Berridge also made fraudulent mortgage applications of their own.
The trail of fraud uncovered by a police operation codenamed Operation Crystallite drew in other members of the Lamb family - his wife Sheila, their son Simon and their daughter Louise Clarke.
In a separate scam, Stephen and Sheila Lamb and their daughter cheated a retired couple, Fred and Sarah Capes who were their friends, out of £45,000. The money was supposed to be the deposit for a house for the Capes, purchased by Clarke with a fraudulently obtained mortgage.
The day the money went in to Clarke's bank account, it was "dissipated". Half of it went to her mother and another £7,000 to Stephen Lamb's company, Tamworth Finance.
The couple ended up moving out of their home and when Mr Capes asked Stephen Lamb where the £45,000 had gone, the reply was it had been used to pay the taxman.
Mr Francis Laird QC, prosecuting, said the mortgage frauds involving Stephen Lamb, Berridge and Bullock were "professionally planned and fraudulent from the outset."
Millions of pounds were loaned by financial institutions based on false information - "grossly inflated income figures". It happened during the 'housing boom' between 2004 and 2008.
Applications were made on behalf of the fraudsters themselves and clients referred to them. Clients interviewed by the police said they had given correct information to the brokers and had never heard or met the accountant who had supposedly verified the inflated incomes.
One false application was made by Simon Lamb for the purchase of his house in Tamworth. He stated he had an income of £37,000, but the Inland Revenue had no record for his income.
Stephen Lamb, aged 61, of Station Road Farm, Tamworth, and Berridge, aged 46, of Fasson Close, Two Gates were each jailed for five years. Bullock, aged 49, of Pioneer Close, Stafford was jailed for three years. All of them admitted charges of conspiracy to defraud.
Judge Michael Cullum told Stephen Lamb: "Dishonesty was running through your veins.
"Berridge - you were involved in many millions of pounds worth of applications. You had a leading role in these conspiracies."
To Bullock the judge said: "you were a mortgage broker working within a boom. You took the deliberate step of deliberately falsifying applications."
Simon Lamb, aged 33, of Cockspur Street, Tamworth who admitted one conspiracy charge, was jailed for 20 months.
Sheila Lamb, aged 55, of Station Road Farm and her daughter Clarke, aged 29, of Bear Lane, Tamworth, who admitted obtaining money by deception were each given a 20 week sentence suspended for two years with 150 hours of unpaid community work.
Mr Laird said Stephen Lamb operated Tamworth Finance in Victoria Street and Bullock was director of RJM Financial Services in Cannock, while Berridge ran Midland Business Services, a book-keeping business.
Berridge was unable to sign off the phoney accounts with inflated incomes because she didn't have the professional qualifications, so used the name of a totally innocent certified account who had no connection to the defendants at all.
As a result, the accountant's name was blackened and her business ruined. The Capes meanwhile have been left distressed.
Mr Philip Bradley, for Stephen Lamb, said his client felt responsibility for dragging other members of his family in to it. "He is personally bankrupt. His reputation and standing in the community is shot through. He knows he will never work in the financial industry again."
Mr Peter Cooper, for Berridge, said she had been a small-time book-keeper working from home. She was willing to co-operate with the frauds for 'very small sums'.
Berridge wanted to apologise to the lady accountant whose name she used and whose reputation had been blackened as a result.
Sheila Lamb had never intended to hurt the Capes and wanted to repay them, said Mr Daniel Oscroft, defending.
The fraudsters were arrested over three years ago, but there followed a series of court cases which could not be reported for legal reasons. The restrictions have now been partially lifted.
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