The alleged "brains" behind a gang who posed as police officers to con 40 elderly victims in Northern Ireland out of money and jewellery is linked by DNA on mobile phones, the High Court heard today.
Prosecutors claimed Ray Lee's profile was on handsets used to contact the pensioners and criminal associates who collected cash at arranged meeting places.
A judge was also told the fraudsters used different methods to take £190,000 and £15,000 worth of jewellery from victims - either snatching their savings or persuading them to hand over valuables for safekeeping.
Lee, 29, and of no fixed abode, was refused bail.
He faces a total of 40 counts of fraud by false representation in connection with suspected scams carried out between January 2020 and May this year.
Ten others have been charged with offences as part of the same investigation.
Police swooped after a woman in Belfast received a bogus phone call on May 28, claiming her husband had been mugged.
On disclosing that the couple had £40,000 stored at their home, she was told to take the money to a primary school on the Knockbreda Road for safety purposes, the court heard.
She went to the rendezvous point and handed over the cash to men in a car after the telephone caller told her they were undercover police officers.
But amid aerial surveillance from a PSNI helicopter, some of the suspects were detained in the vehicle a short distance away.
Crown lawyer Natasha Fitzsimons said Lee was located later that day in the bedroom of a house in west Belfast.
Two mobile phones and £15,000 in cash were also seized from the property.
Ms Fitzsimons claimed one of the phones had been used to call victims, while the other was in contact with the driver of the car stopped by police.
Lee is connected to both devices by DNA and fingerprint evidence, it was contended.
Opposing his application for bail, prosecution counsel said: "Police believe he is the actual brains behind this operation.
"He is the lead member of the organised criminal gang, he is the caller who contacts victims and he is the one who directs individuals to attend their properties or other meeting places to obtain money."
With most of the stolen cash still missing, Ms Fitzsimons claimed Lee could use connections with the Traveller community to flee if released.
Defence barrister Jonpaul Shields described the alleged offences as "unsavoury and distasteful in the extreme".
But he disputed prosecution assertions that his client was involved in a 16-month campaign of fraud.
Denying bail, however, Mr Justice O'Hara cited concerns that Lee could either abscond or re-offend.
He said: "On the information before me, he was (allegedly) part of a very sinister series of successful efforts to steal money and valuables from elderly and vulnerable people in our society."