A ROGUE car dealer gang that ran a business in Hipperholme is guilty of defrauding its customers.
Following an eight week trial at Leeds Crown Court, Kirk Claus, 47, of Mytholmroyd, Craig Firth, 51 of Queensbury, Michael Adams, 41 of Shipley, David Ingham, 42 of Halifax, and David Kelly, 28 of Stockport, were all found guilty by a jury of conspiring to defraud customers of Chequered Flag Car Sales and other companies and businesses trading from the premises in Halifax Road.
All five were also convicted of money laundering.
The investigation was carried out by the Yorkshire and the Humber Trading Standards Group Scambuster Team supported by officers from West Yorkshire and City of York trading standards services and West Yorkshire Police.
Colin Rumford, a spokesman for the Scambuster Team, said the investigation was passed to them after a number of complaints about the garage, Chequered Flag Car Sales, were made to the Consumer Direct helpline between September 2009 to August 2010.
“We received various complaints which included selling written insurance ‘write off’ vehicles that would be repaired to various standards, mostly poor and portrayed as being immaculate inside and out. False mileage readings and vehicles being sold with ‘full manufacturer’s service history’ when no such history existed.
“Vehicles were also sold with false warranties. When the buyer went back with the vehicle depending on their sex they were met with insults of a sexual nature or threats to their health.”
The internet advertising and the promotional material at the forecourt were described by Claus when giving evidence as “flamboyant”.
During the investigation little was said by the defendants at interview, sometimes they claimed they did not know others in the business and that they had minimal involvement in the business. Most gave ‘no comment’ interviews.
Mr Rumford said: “This has been a very long and difficult investigation frustrated by the lack of cooperation by the defendants. They went to great lengths to sell misdescribed and sometimes potentially dangerous second hand cars on a wide scale but accepted no responsibility for their actions.”
The initial investigation began into defendants Firth and Claus said Mr Rumford but as they delved into the complaints it soon became clear that others were involved.
The judge told the defendants that a prison sentence was likely.
“We were very pleased with the outcome,” said Mr Rumford. “A lot of time and effort has gone into the investigation and a large number of people had been duped by the individuals in one way, shape or form. We even had people giving video evidence from as far as Cornwall because they did a lot of their business over the internet.”
A sixth defendant, Paul Clements, 36, from the Romley area of Greater Manchester was convicted of entering into an arrangement he knew or suspected facilitated the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person.
The defendants, together with another individual, Peter Bray, 57, of Blackpool, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud at an earlier hearing, will be sentenced on Thursday, September 27.
David Collinson, chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said it was a pleasing verdict. “Conning the public in this manner is simply not acceptable and anyone who thinks they have been a victim of an unfair trading practice or who knows of anyone who has been exploited by a rogue trader should contact the local Trading Standards Department or the Citizens Advice Bureau helpline on 0845 4040506.”
June Claus, the wife of Kirk was acquitted of money laundering during the hearing.