A group of seven charity scammers have been jailed for stealing £500,000 of fundraising money by impersonating Children in Need collectors
Serial fraudster David Levi, 47, of Lytham, has been jailed for five years for his key role in a scam running from 2011-21. He pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering after originally being arrested in 2017.
Along with Levi, his six gang members were also jailed. William Ormand, 64, received three years and four months in prison after being found guilty at trial at Preston Crown Court.
Roy Ferguson, 63, was jailed for two years and five months, Howard Collins, 73, was given 28 months, Stephen Chesterman, 63, 22 months while Martin Ebanks, 60, and Kaysha Beck, 31, received 18 months.
Levi and his gang would set up in supermarkets across England and Scotland claiming to be collecting donations for Children in Need and Great Ormond Street Hospital.
They obtained logos and marketing material from the charities themselves, and even Pudsey costumes, to make it difficult for staff at supermarkets to question their legitimate presence. However, when supermarket staff did question them Levi and his gang would threaten them with going to the press and losing their jobs.
A small portion of the donations would get to the charities and the rest was stolen by the gang.
Levi used the stolen charity money to import luxury cars from the US, including a Hummer, flights around the world and extravagant, lengthy hotel stays in Australia.
Mark Riley, detective chief inspector of Lancashire Police, said: ‘When people donate to a charity they rightly expect that their money will go to supporting good causes and not to lining the pockets of greedy conmen like David Levi and his gang.
‘They have exploited peoples’ goodwill and honesty to the tune of thousands of pounds, and I’m pleased that we have been able to bring them to justice.’
When questioned on where the money for this lifestyle had come from Levi claimed that he received a substantial amount of inheritance from his father and that he was an escort, but too embarrassed to declare any income on this.
The police were notified of the suspected fraudulent activity in 2017 by the BBC’s Children in Need charity.
This led to Levi’s home and office being raided, with the police recovering phones, tablets, and charity items. The recoveries at these addresses then led to the arrests of the rest the gang.
Richard Atkins KC, prosecutor said: ‘In essence it involved the defendants collecting monies from the public under the guise that the monies collected would all be handed over to the charities whose logos were being displayed.
‘The reality was that only a fraction of the monies handed over by members of the public ever reached the charities. The majority of the money was pocketed by the defendants. In some instances, it is obvious that monies were only deposited with the charities following a police intervention or other enquiry – obviously as a smokescreen.’
Hayley Cooper, specialist prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: ‘The actions of David Levi and the criminal group deprived life-saving charities of significant amounts of money.
‘Members of the public gave their money generously and in good faith, perhaps reassured by seeing the logos of national charities. Sadly, the majority of the donations were pocketed by the defendants.
‘Whenever money is collected for charity there must be absolute transparency and in bucket collections, every penny donated must go to those charities.
‘At the CPS, we have specialist teams to prosecute cases of serious fraud such as this and we work closely with investigators to bring perpetrators to justice.’
Judge Andrew Jefferies KC said: 'This was a massive breach of trust. You all exploited the public goodwill and, in some cases, private grief.'
Levi was jailed in 2005 for four years over ringleading a phishing scam and defrauding more than 160 people out of £200,000.