Belfast shop owner fleeced customers of £150k with sob stories
A 53-year-old shop owner who preyed on friends and vulnerable elderly customers, fleecing them of "tens of thousands of pounds", has been jailed for 18 months.
George Henry Patrick Crossett, whose eldest victim was 91, took almost £150,000 from them over a two-year period with his sob stories of being in "dire trouble" or under death threat.
One of his victims died blaming himself, feeling he had let his family down, Belfast Crown Court heard.
Judge Gordon Kerr QC told the bankrupted Crossett that his was "one of the most serious cases of fraud I have come across in this jurisdiction".
He said that while such offending normally attracted a sentence of six years on a contest, he was entitled to credit for his guilty pleas - and the delay in the case, with some of the offences dating back seven or eight years.
Crossett, from Lyndhurst Drive in north Belfast, pleaded guilty to a total of 17 fraud charges and five of theft, committed between 2011 and 2013.
Judge Kerr said that when Crossett found himself in financial difficulties, "to obtain monies he preyed on his customers and on older people in the area ... taking their monies from them knowing all too well he would not be paying them back".
Quoting from a victim impact report, Judge Kerr said it showed the extent of Crossett's fraud and his behaviour in willingly being prepared to prey on the vulnerable and elderly on Belfast's Shankill Road, where he operated an electrical shop.
The statement, supplied by the daughter of two of his victims, told how they were left devastated by the crime, which "literally knocked their confidence". Her father died blaming himself "because he thought he had let the family down".
The statement also told how Crossett, even after fleecing his victims, would often turn up at their home, "unannounced and uninvited".
Prosecution counsel Philip Henry had told the court there were a number of "recurring themes" to Crossett's offending, "often targeting the most vulnerable and elderly", many in poor states of health or even suffering from Alzheimer's.
Crossett, he added, had his "set stories" backed with extraordinary promises of repaying them within weeks, and large amounts in interest.
He claimed he needed funds to restock after break-ins, or to invest in buying up stock at knock-down prices.
Then, after getting their sympathy, he would drive them to their banks to collect their cash.
On occasions he would also talk the same victim into handing over even more money, none of which they ever saw again.
Defence lawyer Charles MacCreanor QC said that what might have started out with Crossett borrowing money with the thought of paying them back "rapidly became a criminal offence". However, Mr MacCreanor added, "it was obvious all of this was always going to come back to his door".
Crossett was jailed for 18 months, with a further 18 months to be spent on licence.