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Police work to claw back Brighton couple's criminal gains
A Brighton couple and their ‘colleague in crime’ have swapped their life of luxury for a prison cell after being found guilty of money laundering and fraud.
But the work is not over for the specialist organised crime officers who are now working to reclaim the millions of pounds of criminal gain.
Reporter Kimberly Middleton spoke to the officers in the case who brought a halt to criminals living the life of luxury.
When police raided Clifford and Julia Wake’s rented home in Brighton they were met with an array of antique furniture, including a cigar cooler.
Incredible possessions for a couple who had only recently declared themselves bankrupt, with Mr Wake claiming he only had £35 to his name.
But it was no surprise for the specialist detectives who had delved through two decades of the couples’ finances to bring them to justice.
They had uncovered their comfortable and often lavish lifestyle, holidays in the most expensive hotels in Dubai and Cyprus, where they would drink champagne.
They owned a Harley Davidson and a speed boat more suited to the set of Miami Vice with three engines worth £20,000 each.
At the height of his wealth Clifford, 52, drove around Brighton in a Masarati with a personal number plate – BO55 01.
Personal number plate BO55 01
“He clearly feathered his own nest, children were put in private school, ” said Detective Inspector Simon Harsley from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit. “The list just goes on and on.
“It was totally arrogant and at the same time they were claiming benefits and not declaring anything to Revenue and Customs. “Their assets were hidden worldwide.”
He used his development companies AB Group South East, A and B Glazing and Mometco as a front to launder money, often withdrawing large sums in order to always have rolls of cash in his pocket.
He bought lorries, sold them on to finance companies at an inflated rate and then failed to make the repayments. He later reported them stolen to the police.
Expensive cars hired for his staff, including an Audi A4, BMW X5, Toyota Grand 4 and Renault Clio, all went missing after the repayments stopped.
The couple took out fraudulent mortgages, including on homes at Lyndhurst Road and Goldstone Lane, both in Hove, by lying about their incomes.
They claimed Julia, 44, was earning up to £100,000 a year as an upholsterer and Clifford was earning up to £150,000 a year at A&B Glazing.
At the same time they claimed about £19,000 in various benefits and only disclosed about £30,000 of earnings to Revenue and Customs.
On December 22, 2008, the couple declared themselves bankrupt, but failed to disclose their Red Rose speed boat, Harley Davidson, Chevrolet Star, two personalised number plates and Porsche Boxster.
Mr Wake in fact told liquidators he had just £35 to his name.
But when police raided the couple’s rented home in Whitethorn Drive, Brighton, they found it filled with lavish items, including antique furniture
Clifford Wake was the prime mover in providing this criminal lifestyle.
His wife was happy to enjoy the fruits of his dishonest labour but also played her part in misleading the authorities and the banks.
Police said Wake was living a life which was so far above his legitimate means that he had to be financing it with the proceeds of crime, whether by himself or by others.
He tried to conceal his assets and converted money into property or income, which he could then spend.
The couple were convicted of 17 counts of deception, theft, money laundering, and Insolvency Act offences at Brighton Crown Court on March 1, which saw £1.75 million pass through their accounts over the course of eight years.
Clifford Wake was found guilty of two offences of fraudulent trading, four of theft, five of money laundering, four offences of obtaining property by deception or dishonesty and one offence of failing to disclose property while bankrupt. He was imprisoned for seven years.
Julia Wake was found guilty of one offence of failing to disclose property while bankrupt, four offences of obtaining services by deception or dishonestly and three offences of money laundering. She was sent to prison for two and a half years.
DI Harsley led the case against the Wakes and their ‘colleague in crime’ Patrick Lee, which took four detectives two years of investigation.
South East Regional Organised Crime Unit is made up of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Thames Valley police officers and works with the UK Border Agency, HMRC and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to combat organised crime in the South East.
He said: “They were both involved in an organised crime group which we set out to disrupt and dismantle.
“We attacked the pair of them, concentrating on their criminal finances, which really was quite in depth.
“It is all about filtering criminal money through what appeared to be legitimate businesses so that criminal money could be derived from a number of sources, simple fraud where they defrauded the bank and told lies on application forms or siphoned off money from business.
“It’s a complicated web which takes time to pick through and there were attempts to cover up the trail, especially by putting money through seemingly legitimate companies.”
He added: “This type of complex criminal behaviour is very difficult to unravel, and it is a tribute to our hard-working team, Detective Constable Alison Diamond and financial investigators Eamonn O’Dwyer, and Dave Chave that the courts have been satisfied beyond doubt that these are lifestyle organised criminals intent on taking whatever criminal advantage they can to make money.
“People like this need to know that we can still come after them, and that we can also attack their profits.”
Patrick Lee, 60, of Mill Street, Colnbrook, Bucks, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years imprisonment at Lewes Crown Court on February 22 for ten offences of money laundering.
Despite being of apparently limited means and with no obvious source of legitimate income that would support substantial movements of money, an analysis of Lee’s accounts showed that from 2003 to 2011 about £4 million passed through his accounts.
A number of those transactions were identified as passing through the accounts of Lee and the Wakes or accounts operated by them.
The court found the funds being transferred between accounts represented criminal property.
DI Harsley said the team is still working to strip the three of their financial profits made through the systematic and organised crime over a number of years.
He said: “We will continue to investigate both of them with a view to proceeds of crime act confiscation process.
“The convictions will establish a level of benefit – how much they have made from their criminal activity.
“We are looking at properties abroad, investments in companies abroad. We’re looking at millions of pounds.
“If those applications are successful the proceeds can be ploughed back into legitimate society via law enforcement and local community projects.
“It’s about making sure that the crime doesn’t pay."
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