News item

Jail for golf club criminals

The biggest counterfeiting operation ever to be investigated by trading standards has resulted in a jail sentence for the ringleader of the criminal network.

Gary Bellchambers was convicted of masterminding a global fake golf club scam, which was the largest counterfeiting conspiracy uncovered on eBay, and has been sentenced to four years and three months in jail on March 4.

The defendants sold millions of pounds worth of counterfeit golf clubs and other fake golf merchandise through the website between June 2003 and March 2008. The value of the conspiracy is difficult to determine but the PayPal accounts used by the conspirators received more than US $3 million during this period. Bellchambers organised the delivery of more than six tons of golf equipment into the United Kingdom alone.

Roy and Kay Cottee, from Rainham, Helen Wilson from Hertford, and Sharron Williams from Kent were found guilty in December of conspiring together to sell or distribute counterfeit golf clubs, clothing and accessories bearing signs likely to be mistaken for registered trademarks contrary to Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.

Bellchambers, from Rainham, who was at the heart of the conspiracy, had already pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy along with Keith Thomas, also from Rainham. Chris Moughton, from Blackpool, pleaded guilty to a role in a connected conspiracy. Bellchambers also admitted the unauthorised use of trademarks contrary to Sec 92(1)(c) of the Trade Marks Act 1994, which related to counterfeit Qantas complimentary lounge cards and Sony memory sticks.

Keith Thomas was sentenced to 16 months in prison and Roy Cottee was given a custodial sentence of 12 months.

Kay Cottee was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years. She was also ordered to do 300 hours unpaid work. Sharron Williams was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for 18 months. She was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work. Chris Moughton was sentenced to 19 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months. He was also given a tagged curfew of three months. Helen Wilson was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for 18 months. She was also ordered to perform 150 hours of unpaid work.

The majority of the fake goods were manufactured at factories in Turtle Creek, Shenzhen, China and shipped to the various defendants’ addresses in the UK. All the convicted defendants except Helen Wilson travelled to Thailand. From Thailand, or their homes in the UK, they arranged for the fake goods to be sent to eBay customers in Ireland, Australia, the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil and New Zealand. Nearly every major golf brand had been counterfeited.

The downfall of the counterfeiting empire was brought about when a customer complained to Havering Council trading standards officers after she had tried to get a refund for two clubs.
The Council then launched an investigation, codenamed Operation Augusta, named after the US golf club which hosts The Masters.

Bill Adams, Havering Council Principal Trading Standards officer, said:

‘We are pleased that this gang have got what they deserved. They made millions of pounds from their operation, selling tens of thousands of fake clubs to people all over the world. Each customer was ripped off by up to £100 per club.

‘I’ve been an investigator for 35 years and never heard of such a massive counterfeiting operation – it was of a scale that has never been seen before.’