News item

Jail sentence for serial rogue trader who made £100,000 out of Surrey residents

A serial rogue trader who fleeced vulnerable Surrey residents out of more than £100,000 by overcharging for shoddy building work has been jailed for three years.

James Saunders, 51, charged extortionate sums for repairs to roofs and drains before he was stopped in his tracks by trading standards officers.

He preyed on elderly people, using untrue sob stories to gain their sympathy, and even drove some victims to the bank to ensure they withdrew funds.

Nine victims were conned out of funds totalling £104,000, including an 89-year-old war veteran who was cheated out of more than £42,000 making him overdrawn for the first time in his life.

Another victim, who passed away last year, suffered from severe arthritis, Alzheimer’s and eye problems and his wife had been treated for breast cancer.

Saunders, previously of Blacksmith Lane, Chilworth and now living in Cross Street, Portsmouth, used the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle which included a luxury home, top-of-the-range cars, designer clothes, jewellery and exotic foreign holidays.

He was sentenced at Guildford Crown Court on Friday 12 June following a prosecution brought by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards*.

He had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one count of participating in a fraudulent business over a six-year period taking account of 12 incidents. He admitted overcharging nine victims £117,612.50, of which he actually received £104,837.50. He also pleaded guilty to one count of laundering these proceeds.

His former wife, Rachel Roberts, 48, of Lower Sandhurst Road, Finchampstead, Berkshire was jailed for 21 months. She had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one count of laundering the proceeds of crime, amounting to £60,000, and had also been found guilty after a trial of two counts of theft relating to two BMW cars.

Richard Walsh, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing, said: ‘Saunders was a prolific rogue trader who targeted elderly people and cruelly conned them out of large sums of money.

‘This sentence sends a powerful message that rogue traders who charge exorbitant sums for poor quality work or no work at all will be tracked down by our trading standards teams and brought to justice.’

Saunders and Roberts now face a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act where trading standards officers will seek to force them to return funds to their victims.

Guildford Crown Court heard that James Saunders traded under names such as ‘Roofcare Property Maintenance’, ‘Drain Care’ and ‘The Roofing Company’.

Ben Meredith, prosecuting on behalf of Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards, said the trader placed adverts in local Surrey media including church and parish magazines, leading victims to believe they were dealing with a trustworthy business.

Saunders would begin by quoting a reasonable price for repairs but once work had started, would quickly claim further work was needed at significant extra cost, he said.

The trader would insist on substantial upfront payments, often at a stage when the roof was open to the elements.

Tactics used to obtain payments from victims included accompanying or driving them to the bank to withdraw funds and standing over them while they made transfers by internet banking.

He also used emotional pressure, saying for example that he was ill or that he needed to pay others to enable them to eat.

The proceeds of his crimes were laundered through bank accounts held by himself and Rachel Roberts. They simultaneously held at least 33 accounts between them.

Surveyors who assessed repairs carried out by Saunders found the sums he charged to be manifestly excessive for the work actually done, which was a poor standard if completed at all.

Saunders admitted overcharging nine victims over a period of six years between April 2007 and April 2013. His victims lived in Dorking, Chilworth, Cranleigh, Godalming, Woking, Thames Ditton, Albury and Guildford.

In mitigation for Saunders, James Harrison said he was suffering from depression, he had lost his family home and his relationship with his family had broken down.

In mitigation for Roberts, James Lachkovic said she had played a lesser role and had been influenced by Saunders.

Steve Ruddy, head of service for Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards, said: ‘Protecting our most vulnerable residents is a central priority for our Trading Standards team.

‘This case cruelly highlights the tip of an iceberg. We know that many residents don’t come forward, don’t tell family friends or neighbours. That may be through fear, embarrassment, or simply sometimes because they don’t know they have been conned and deceived in this way. By working in partnership with others we want to raise awareness of this problem and to stop such callous criminal rogue traders ruining lives.’

*Buckinghamshire and Surrey operate a joint trading standards service.

Two of Saunders’ victims tell their stories at: http://news.surreycc.gov.uk/2015/06/12/jail-sentence-for-serial-rogue-trader-who-made-100000-out-of-surrey-residents/ 

DATE: 15 June 2015