Welsh sisters jailed for £161m VAT scam
Two sisters from Colwyn Bay, whose systematic frauds funded lavish lifestyles filled with luxury property, fast cars and private schooling, were jailed today after their greed led them to attempt a £161m fake VAT repayment scam.
The women’s dream was brought to a halt when HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) launched an investigation into the employment agency the sisters claimed to be running. Enquiries led to their arrest in January 2009, and they were charged in December 2009 with nine offences including VAT and tax credits frauds. Today Andrea Vaughan Owen, 42, and her sister Roberta, 37, were each sentenced to 3½ years in jail.
Andrea, a former post office worker, and Roberta, who was once a civilian worker for North Wales Police, paid for private schooling for Andrea’s two eldest children, bought two properties, Mercedes sports cars, spa treatments and private health care.
The pair had no difficulty considering how they might spend their illicit wealth, making enquiries about buying a £320,000 Rolls Royce, various commercial properties worth in excess of £2m and even approached Liverpool Football Club to discuss an advertising deal. However, as their fraudulent attempts failed, maintaining this veneer of wealth based mainly on credit was increasingly difficult. As they became more desperate their attempts at fraud became more outrageous.
Speaking after sentencing today Simon De Kayne, Assistant Director, HMRC said:
“Andrea and Roberta Vaughan Owen lived the type of lifestyle that most people can only dream about; a lifestyle funded by their web of deceit and fraud. The scale and variety of their criminal attempts was astonishing, but it wasn’t enough for them and their greed led to the £161m VAT claim, and their downfall. Our next step will be to relieve them of the profits of their crimes.
“Anyone tempted to cheat, swindle and defraud should be warned that we are examining claims more closely than ever before. During the first year of our error and fraud strategy, we have stopped more than £1bn of fraudulent and incorrect tax credits payments. We work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions, and carefully examine and check claims.”
During a three week trial Caernarfon Crown Court had heard how mum of three Andrea Vaughan Owen and her sister Roberta Vaughan Owen set about their frauds. Between them they received £120,000 in tax credits over a five year period, starting in 2003 when they made their first claim stating that they were employed. Investigations later revealed that Roberta had been on incapacity benefit since 2002, supposedly unable to work, despite telling HMRC that she was self employed. Andrea also claimed to be self employed working more than 30 hours per week.
Andrea also tried – and failed – to obtain two bridging loans totalling £751,000 by falsely claiming her income was £18-22k per month.
Attempted bridging loans
In March 2008 Andrea Vaughan Owen made false representation about her income to Link Lending, with a view to obtaining a bridging loan of £572,400. Andrea claimed that her monthly income was in the region of £18-22k per month despite the fact that she was not working. This attempt was unsuccessful. She also made a similar, unsuccessful representation to the same company during the same month in an attempt to obtain a bridging loan of £179,280.
Andrea Vaughan Owen was sentenced to 18 months in prison for this offence, to run concurrently.
Both sisters attempted insurance fraud by seeking out mortgage and motor vehicle repayments by claiming loss of earnings. Finally, they submitted a false VAT repayment claim for £161m in December 2008, which was not paid.
Sentencing the pair today at Caernarfon Crown Court, Judge His Honour Niclas Parry said “The Jury has seen you for what you are – serial fraudsters, shameless liars, manipulative and calculating. You lived a lavish, greedy lifestyle at the expense of people who face real hardship.”
Confiscation proceedings will follow.