Fraud gang including solicitor, financial advisor and businessman convicted of £1.5m property scam avoid jail terms
A criminal gang including a solicitor, financial advisor and prominent businessman convicted of a £1.5m property scam have avoided jail.
The PSNI welcomed the sentences handed out to seven conmen who admitted roles in the lucrative fraud - even though none of them will spend a day behind bars.
SDLP deputy leader and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly told the Belfast Telegraph she believed the sentences were too lenient. "Somebody can be prosecuted for shoplifting and get a heavy fine and prison sentence," she said. "We need tougher sentences for white-collar crime."
Police said the scheme involved the purchase of 26 properties.
Sentencing took place last June, but restrictions preventing the reporting of the case were in place until the trial of the last defendant ended last week.
Businessman John Gaile (52) set up the scam with members of his family and Coleraine solicitor John Hickey (56). It involved applying for mortgages using inflated purchase prices for properties mainly in the Coleraine area.
The majority of mortgages were obtained using the services of Holywood independent financial advisor William Larmour (63).
Banks and building societies then offered greater loans than would otherwise have been available to Gaile. He benefited by having to contribute less from his own funds.
From September 1995 until April 2008, Gaile sold the properties, sometimes to family members or Hickey. He either pocketed the profits or used them to help purchase another property for which a mortgage was similarly obtained by deception. Financial investigators said the total value of the mortgages obtained was in excess of £1.5m. Police calculate the total profit to all seven defendants through the acquisition and sale of the properties amounted to more than £483,000 - but the loss to lenders through repossessions amounted to more than £557,000.
Detective Constable Sam Kinkaid, from Organised Crime Branch, said: "This case is a reminder to anyone who thinks they can get away with large-scale fraud that there is every likelihood they will be apprehended by police and have to suffer the consequences, financial and otherwise."
However, not one of the fraudsters will go to jail.
John Gaile received two years' jail suspended for three years, for 19 counts involving obtaining services by deception and money laundering.
Hickey was given the same sentence for 51 counts involving obtaining services by deception, fraud by false representation and money laundering.
William Larmour got a conditional discharge for failing to disclose money laundering.
John Gaile's brother Paul (50), Paul's wife Lena Gaile (49) and the couple's son Lee Paul Gaile (29) received suspended sentences for money laundering. John Gaile's son Kieran Gaile (30) received a conditional discharge for two counts of obtaining services by deception and fraud by false representation.
Last week another defendant, Patrick Gaile (51), stood trial for obtaining a service by deception. He was found not guilty by a jury at Belfast Crown Court.
Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence.