News item

Convicted loan shark ordered to pay back more than £40,000

A convicted loan shark has been ordered to pay back all of his available assets to the courts, following a financial investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team. 

Giovanni Caruso, 43 of Foley Street, Fenton in Stoke on Trent had assets amounting to £41,000. He must pay back this amount within six months or face a further 18 months in prison. 

Caruso was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working in partnership with Stoke on Trent City Council. 

In April 2012 Caruso was sentenced to four and half years in prison after being convicted of illegal money lending, money laundering, three counts of blackmail and two counts of perverting the court of justice.

Caruso made a total of £261,000 over a period of 16 months (From August 2009- February 2011) through the illegal money lending business.

His assets included the equity in his property, more than £2000 cash which was seized and a large array of ceremonial swords and bow and arrow sets.  

At sentencing the Court heard how unemployed Caruso loaned money at a rate of £50 interest for every £100 borrowed to begin with, but increased the interest amount once people had taken out their loan. He gave no paperwork and was unclear with borrowers as to the terms of the loan, and how long they will be paying. He told one victim to just to keep paying and he’d tell him when to stop.

Most of Caruso’s victims were friends with him initially, but grew frightened of him as he made threats to them and their family members. 

Caruso, a cage fighter, told victims he would “rearrange their face”, “break their legs” and “chuck acid into their face so no-one would recognise them again”. Victims spoke of how they felt he was capable of carrying out the acts.  

On a number of occasions Caruso told a female victim she should work as an escort to pay of the debts, telling her he could drive her a long way from Stoke to do so. 

In passing sentence HHJ Jones said Caruso “operated effectively under the radar and without regulation, restraints and safeguards. He had provided easy money to the vulnerable and those on benefits. In the absence of proper records, indebtedness increased to sums out of proportion to the amount lent and if payment was late or missed he had sought to enforce payment through the use of ugly threats.” 

Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and community safety, said: “We will not tolerate criminals like Caruso preying on vulnerable residents in Stoke-on-Trent, demanding extortionate interest payments and threatening people with violence when those demands cannot be met.

“Loan sharks are notorious for targeting people when they are at their most desperate, exploiting and profiting from their situation. Times of economic hardship, including the current era of austerity, are a breeding ground for this type of criminal activity.

“I would like to reassure residents that the city council is absolutely determined to identify the people responsible for illegally lending money, to bring them to justice and strip them of any assets they have. If anyone is concerned about a loan that they have taken out I would urge them to call the England Illegal Money Lender on 0300 555 2222.”

Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “Under proceeds of crime legislation we are able to strip loan sharks of their assets leaving them with no power basis to start again. Today’s hearing sends a clear message that we will continue to crack down on this criminal activity which has such a detrimental impact on individuals and communities. The cash will be ploughed back into communities and used to help combat this crime through awareness raising and education.

If you or someone you know has been affected by a loan shark, there is help available. Please call us on 0300 555 2222 to speak to a trained investigator in confidence.”  

Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured 309 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading 195 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £42 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 23,000 victims.

To report a loan shark:

Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 

Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003 

E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk 

Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

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For more information contact Sarah-Jane Lynch, Illegal Money Lending Team communications officer, on 0121 693 1030 or 07881617119 or email sarah-jayne.lynch@birmingham.gov.uk. To speak to the National Trading Standards Board with a more general enquiry please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office on 0845 6089430 or pressoffice@tsi.org.uk.

Notes to editors

As the proceeds of crime settlement has now been agreed the hearing which was due to take place on Friday 7 March at Stoke Crown Court, will no longer go ahead. 

The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards. 

NTSB provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

The Stop Loan Sharks Project consists of three Illegal money lending teams in England, Scotland and Wales.  The NTSB has responsibility for the England and Wales Illegal Money Lending Teams that are hosted by Birmingham City Council and Cardiff Council. There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured 309 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 195 years-worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £42 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 23,000 people.

The Illegal Money Lending Teams in England and Wales work in partnership with local Trading Standards Authorities in their related countries. They consist of specialist officers who investigate and prosecute illegal money lending and related activity and LIAISE officers who support victims and raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders. 

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DATE: 6 March 2014