An internet crime gang including a former police officer conned Brits out of £6million through a fake escort agency, a court heard.
Former West Yorkshire Police detective Christopher Taylor, 57, and four others set up a string of websites including Beautiful Adults, European Escorts and AdoraBelles.
They widely advertised the escort agencies – including in the Daily Star – and lured applicants in with the promise of £600 a day fee for going on “non-sexual dates”.
Willing respondents paid an upfront fee of more than £300, but then discovered the websites were fakes and the dates never went ahead, Ipswich Crown Court heard.
The scam was masterminded by Toni Muldoon, 66, who has already pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud.
Muldoon ran a string of bogus companies from Spain and the jury were told millions of pounds were transferred from the UK to Spanish bank accounts.
But Mr Taylor along with three men and a woman deny two counts of conspiracy to defraud and various charges of money laundering relating to the £5.7m scam.
Nic Lobbenberg, prosecuting, said Muldoon was “at the helm of the conspiracy” and received huge amounts which he spent on expensive luxury villas and boats.
He said: “These cases involve the advance fee fraud. You pay something upfront for something you never get. It was a complete scam.”
The jury were told that the “conspirators” also ran a debt scam in which they cold-called people from Spain.
Mr Lobbenberg said: “People who were caught by this fraud were people who were very desperate.
“They had vast credit card debts. They were persuaded to put more money on their credit cards to get rid of debt.
“This fraud is about promising debt elimination that simply does not exist.”
Mr Lobbenberg added that the defendants, who deny a total of 13 charges between them, “believed they were engaged in legitimate, honest business”.
The court heard the scam was run from call centres in Spain and Turkey and fees from participants were transferred through a network of false companies in the UK.
Former detective Mr Taylor, from Wakefield, West Yorks., is alleged to have allowed his company bank account, First Direct Recovery Ltd, to be used to launder criminal proceeds of the fraud.
Colin Samuels, 61, from Redgrave, Suffolk, is alleged to be the “front man” who allowed his bank account to be used to launder money.
Mark Bell, 41, of Westerfield, Suffolk, is alleged to be Muldoon’s UK partner.
Mr Bell is said to have helped recruit directors to bogus companies and provided the telephone lines to the Spanish call centre.
Bradley Rogers, 29, from Malaga, is accused of being Muldoon’s ‘lieutenant’ who received £750,000 into his account.
The prosecution allege he chose the names for the websites and booked adverts in papers such as the Daily Star.
The trial was told Geraldine French, 60, who lived in Spain and also has links in Suffolk, was the money person.
Mr Lobbenberg, prosecuting, said she acted as the administrator and was “at the forefront of the deception”.
The trial is expected to last eight weeks.
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