A conwoman who fleeced over £30,000 from unsuspecting customers by flogging fake designer accessories from China at “handbag parties” has escaped jail.
Katherine Padania, 45, shipped in knock-off Mulberry handbags, purses and wallets after buying them online for £100 each.
The con-artist then held parties where she claimed the bags were real and sold them at £150 each as “factory seconds”.
But she was rumbled when one unhappy customer complained to trading standards after a buckle fell off one of the brown and gold bags.
Padania was arrested after trading standards officers discovered a stash of fake goods at her home in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs., on October 26, 2012.
On Friday she appeared at Stafford Crown Court where she pleaded guilty to selling and possessing counterfeit goods.
She walked free from court after being handed an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Sentencing Judge Mark Eades told her: “What you did is not a victimless crime.
“It is so easy to get involved in selling counterfeit goods.
“There is a real market out there for fashion items selling for a cheap price.
“But you would have had to have been blindfolded twice over not to realise these products were not genuine.”
The court heard Padania stole more than £30,000 from her customers over a 12 month period.
In total, 60 handbags, wallets and purses were seized from her home by Staffordshire County Council, which would have been worth £24,000 if they were real.
Paperwork listing transactions over a four-month period adding up to a total of £17,230 were also found.
Padania claimed to investigators she did not know the items were not real.
Prosecuting Richard Dewsberry, said: “She was selling the handbags to other people by hosting handbag parties.
“She told customers she could source the products much cheaper from Mulberry because they were factory over-runs or seconds.
“One customer bought several handbags in August 2011. The first bag broke relatively quickly, the buckle came off.
“The customer told Mrs Padania about this but she suggested she should take it to a local cobbler to get it fixed.
“The customer told the defendant it would be better to contact Mulberry directly, but Mrs Padania quickly put her off that idea by saying they would not be interested.
“The customer then started to use a second bag and the same thing happened.
“This time, instead of going back to Mrs Padania, she contacted Mulberry and trading standards.
“The items were checked and confirmed to be counterfeit.”
David Bratt, defending, said: “This was a professional operation.
“I would accept there is money involved which would cause some concern.
“But this is a lady who has been mortified by the sequence of her actions.”
After the hearing Staffordshire County Council officials said they welcomed the court proceedings.
County Councillor Mark Winnington, cabinet member for economy, said: “Counterfeiting is a serious crime that damages the local economy and puts jobs at risk.
“It also means people are fleeced into ending up with shoddy and in some cases dangerous goods.
“This sentence demonstrates that this was not just an opportunistic sale of a few items – it was a methodically well planned set-up designed to con as many people as possible.
“We hope this sends out a strong message that counterfeit sales won’t be tolerated and that we will do all we can to protect our businesses which are harmed by this type of crime.”