A Northamptonshire man who played a leading role in a rogue building business aimed at extorting the elderly has been spared jail after a judge found him more “naive” than “villainous.”
At Northampton Crown Court yesterday James Richardson of Park Street, Raunds, was given a suspended 18 month sentence for playing a “subordinate” role in the running of AJ Builders, a cowboy building company run by his wife’s father Alan Fitzgerald of Stanwick.
Richardson had already pleaded guilty to a count of fraudulent trading on July 7.
But sentencing him, recorder Roger Evans said Richardson should be spared an immediate prison term as the “lion’s share” of gains made their way to Fitzgerald rather than him.
Recorder Evans said: “It is urged upon me that you were more naive than villainous.
“In my opinion, it is not necessary to send you to prison today.”
AJ Builders worked by charging initial down payments for jobs it would never start; by grossly overcharging clients for work done to a poor standard; or convincing mainly elderly victims they needed building works doing when they did not.
Richardson, who joined the firm as a labourer, the court heard, was promised more money to take on a more leading role in the business in 2014 by his father in-law.
At one point Richardson’s phone number and email address even adorned company flyers and prosecuting, Cameron Crowe, told the court that it was Fitzgerald’s intention that Richardson “take over the family business” in case he was imprisoned.
Between October 1 2012 and October 10, 2013, AJ Builders conned 22 customers, the youngest being 59 and the oldest 93.
In total more than £140,000 was extorted from the victims, though little more than £6,000 of that could be traced back to Richardson’s bank accounts.
Recorder Evans went on to say; “The mode of operations of this business was in an organised way, particularly mean and vicious. It targeted elderly people in their own homes.”
“This is the worst kind of fraud.”
Defending for Richardson, Ronald Jaffa said the young man was not aware his father-in-law was running a criminal enterprise when he first joined the company.
It was only after complaints began rolling in “after a few months,” Richardson became aware, the court heard.
Mr Jaffa said: “It shows his naivety with the fact on the company flyers are the defendants emails, phone number and home address.
“He realised things were not right and he continued to work. He had financial issues.
“He and his wife and young child were living in a house belonging to the father -in-law.
“It’s not an easy situation.
“Really Richardson is a working man who has found himself under the control of his father in law in difficult circumstances.”
Richardson’s 18 month sentence was suspended for two years, though he was not ordered to pay compensation to the victims due to his poor financial situation.
He will also be placed on a curfew barring him from leaving his home in the evenings for the next four months.
County council cabinet member for public protection, Councillor André Gonzalez de Savage, said: “This is an excellent result for our trading standards team.
“Fitzgerald targeted elderly and vulnerable residents by cold-calling and asking if they wanted any building work done. He would tell them that there were visible defects that needed repair, claiming to offer a discount and even using work done nearby by other companies as examples of the quality of his work.
“Fitzgerald would often get payment in advance and then delay the building work with flimsy excuses, as well as overcharging and intimidating people into paying large amounts of money for the work.
“In some cases, the victims lost their life savings, with one person losing as much as £39,000 to this despicable fraudster.
“Richardson, who was his business partner, became aware of these practices and, in his own words, turned a blind eye.
“I would encourage residents to use only reputable companies for any work they are having done and they can find approved traders through our Buy With Confidence scheme.”