FOUR small time players in a sophisticated bank fraud have appeared in court for their part of a larger scheme.
The quartet intercepted legitimate cheque books from Lloyds TSB customers, and cashed fraudulent cheques into branches in Wallsend, Benton and Heaton, in March and May 2009.
Christopher Robertson, from Scarborough Road, Walker, Anthony Rutherford, from Tiverton Avenue, Newcastle, Sandar Abiet, from Benson Road, Walker, and Wellington Ndlovu, from Valkyrie Road, Essex, were described at Newcastle Crown Court as ‘mules’ who took thousands of pounds using the stolen cheque books.
Geoff Mason for the prosecution said: “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, but with some pieces missing.
“The police call them mules as they were getting a small amount of money – £50 – for their trouble.
“At some point in this it was clearly professionally organised. There are more people involved in this than are in the dock.”
Newcastle Crown Court heard cheque books of genuine Lloyds Bank account holders were ordered legitimately, but without the knowledge of the account holder.
The cheque books were then intercepted by the gang.
Mr Mason said: “Somehow they managed to order the cheque books so that they were sent out legitimately by Lloyds, and then intercept them later without the account holder knowing anything.”
Mr Mason told the court how the gang hired Lloyds account holders so they could pay in cheques worth £1,000 in. When the money was paid into the account, another person would immediately withdraw the daily limit of £300.
Ndlovu, 42, was responsible for transporting the cheque books from Essex to the north east where Robertson, 26, Rutherford, 23, Abiet, 33, and 18-year old Jordan Tote, who was not dealt with last week, would carry out the fraud.
Andrew Walker, defending Abiet said: “He was a foot soldier that was vulnerable to being exploited because he is an asylum seeker.
“He has food vouchers but no income, which leads him to being vulnerable.”
Shaun Routledge, for Rutherford, said: “He tended cheques that were written out by others and was successful twice in withdrawing £300 for which he got paid a small amount of money.”
Chris Mitford, mitigating for Robertson added: “They were all caught on CCTV and there was no element of sophistication on their part. They walked into the bank and cashed the cheques, and then withdrew the money.”
Judge Colin Burn spared the gang a spell in custody, and instead gave each a two year community order.
“You got yourselves involved in, I accept at the edge, a quite sophisticated operation,” he said.
“From your perspective you just got involved because you wanted to make some quick money, but without people like you, operations like this wouldn’t work.
“Although the amount of money involved isn’t a lot, a prison sentence would be the correct sentence but because this has taken some time to come to court, you have all had a substantial restriction on your liberty.
“Ndlovu, I accept that you are closer to the organisers of this operation, but nowhere near the centre. You were responsible for bringing the cheque books up from the south east of England and you were responsible for making sure that people put the cheques in.
“You got yourself mixed up in something very serious here.”
Tote, from Springwell Avenue, Walker, was remanded in custody for a separate offence and will be sentenced at a later date.
Acting Detective Inspector Joanne Brooks from North Tyneside Area Command said: “This has been a long running and complicated investigation which led to enquiries being made across the country to identify the movement of cash and those responsible. Police have been liaising with financial agencies and banking officials in order to bring this case before the court.
“Banks are vigilant when it crimes to fraudulent transactions and police do investigate these types of complaints and will always seek to bring offenders to court whenever possible.”