Belfast Telegraph

No prison for fake Ford goods scammer who declared all to taxman

By John Cassidy

A Co Antrim businessman who ran an international counterfeiting operation from his garage has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Michael White received a two-year suspended term for breaching trademark laws by selling car products bearing the Ford logo.

The 47-year-old, of Ballymartin Road, Templepatrick, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to five charges of selling goods without a registered trademark.

He also admitted one count of converting criminal property totalling £112,500 over a five-year period between January 2012 and January 2016.

The court heard the offences came to light when a consignment of the goods was seized at Belfast Docks in 2012.

The container contents included car mats and mud flaps bearing either the Ford 'ST' or Ford 'RS' logos, manufactured for White by a company in China.

Judge Elizabeth McCafferty was told that after the seizure the Ford company wrote to White telling him to "desist from selling these products". But the former Ballylumford Power Station engineer continued to sell the products without acquiring a licence from Ford.

When interviewed by police, he admitted the offences, saying he "did not consider there was anything wrong" with what he was doing.

The court was told White had declared all his income tax and VAT relating to the sale of the goods in his annual returns to HM Revenue and Customs. The total amount of gross profit before tax was estimated at around £40,000 over the five-year period of offending, with a net profit after tax of around £30,000.

Defence barrister Neil Moore spoke of how "candid" his client was during police interviews. He was a "hard-working man" who had no criminal record.

He added that White, a vintage Ford car enthusiast, saw a "niche in the market" when he realised the car maker did not make car mats or mud flaps with the 'RS' and 'ST' logos. His client took receipt of £112,500 between 2012 and 2016. "This is a significant expenditure but he also had to pay the manufacturers in China and the post and packaging costs," explained Mr Moore.

"He was making a profit of £6,000 per year from this small venture over a number of years.

"This is not a gentleman producing DVDs for Nutts Corner market," added the defence barrister. "He just saw a gap, a niche in the market for other enthusiasts."

Passing sentence yesterday, Judge McCafferty stated: "It is clear there was an element of sophistication involved in this offending."

She continued that such trademark breaches have the potential to "undermine the reputations of companies". However, she said in considering her sentence, she was giving White "maximum credit" for his guilty pleas, previous clear record, that he was a "hard-working man with a stable family life" and the "distress of these proceedings in acquiring a criminal record".

The judge added: "These are exceptional circumstances in which I can suspend the sentence of two years for a period of two years on counts one to five of selling goods without a registered trademark."

White received a concurrent 18-month sentence, suspended for two years, for converting £112,500 of criminal property.

The court granted a destruction order for the seized goods.

Afterwards, PSNI temporary Detective Superintendent Gary Reid said: "The market for car products linked to high value brands is substantial. Those who seek to subvert this market by making and selling counterfeit products are putting jobs at risk and reducing legitimate profits.

"They are also taking money out of the legitimate economy and its tax revenues which pay for public services."

Ford brand protection manager Jess Owens said: "Rigorous research and development is conducted by Ford to ensure that parts and accessories provide consumer satisfaction and safety."

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