Portsmouth fraud gang jailed after buying luxury goods using stolen identities of BT customers
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Convicted fraudster Festus Emosivwe led an eight-strong Portsmouth-based gang using more than 2,000 identities between 2014 and 2016 to order diamond rings, Breitling and Rolex watches, TVs and clothes to his co-conspirators’ homes under unsuspecting victims’ names.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard IT graduate Emosivwe held an ‘instruction manual’ on fraud and would pay gang members between £20 and £100 to take deliveries - with the total goods worth £358,000.
In total gang members were jailed for 16 years and 10 months with all but one defendant being locked-up for their part in the scam.
Emosivwe received the longest sentence with him jailed for three years and eight months.
Judge Timothy Mousley QC told him: ‘You were responsible for obtaining and providing details to others.
‘You found people to accept deliveries and pay them. You were at the centre of the conspiracy.
‘You played a leading role where there was significant planning over a sustained period of time which had a large number of victims.
‘Whilst the financial loss falls to be met by the financial institutions, the impact on those who had their details stolen cannot be under-estimated.
‘Many of them speak of their heightened levels of anxiety, stress and fear as a result of finding out their accounts had been hacked.’
Prosecutor Michael Forster had told the court how victims’ phones and emails were diverted so Emosivwe could use their details without suspicion.
Among the victims was 69-year-old victim Geoffrey Noble, a retired project manager from Hampshire. In a statement he said: ‘The effect of this crime on me has been considerable. The incident frightened me and has made me fearful of making financial transactions in the future.
‘When I found out that I had been scammed I was horrified and put to considerable inconvenience resetting passwords, contacting PayPal, my banks and other agencies.
‘I experienced a sense of panic and fear because I did not know where it was going to end. Electronic bank transactions are meant to be safe and make life easier but the experience made (me think differently).
Mr Noble’s details were used to buy a near-£3,000 Breitling watch. The cancer patient added: ‘I was furious at the time and I remain angry because nobody has the right to take the money I worked so hard for.’
In court, prosecutor Michael Forster said there was ‘some evidence of stealing to order but also some of (buying) high-value goods’ to sell on in a ‘shotgun’ approach ‘firing off as many transactions as you possibly can and get as many goods that come through’.
The case came to light when BT alerted police. Officers uncovered PayPal transactions and the commerce firm helped identify suspect deliveries.
Emosivwe, known as Swifty, was at the ‘centre of the conspiracy,’ prosecutor Mr Forster said. When police raided his home in Strode Road, Stamshaw, they seized phones and 13 sim cards from the top of a wardrobe.
Fingerprint experts were able to identify Emosivwe’s prints from one photo, extracted from his phone, of a bank card in his hand.
Having earned a qualification in ‘the latest hacking tools and defences,’ the ringleader has ‘specialist technical knowledge’ enabling him to ‘put into effect this conspiracy,’ prosecutor Michael Forster said.
Apple goods, cash, dresses, Louis Vuitton high heels, handbags and IT textbooks were found at his home by police. A lone receipt found by police reveals he transferred cash to Romania under an alias, the court heard.
When he was taken to custody officers found he had chewed and destroyed a USB memory stick. Laptops under his mattress and a white iPhone between his pillows were linked to the fraud.
During the operation, arguments flared over payments Emosivwe made to co-conspirator Charles Onwu’s estranged wife Chloe Maylott, who used her home to take deliveries of goods under the BT customers’ names.
Mum-of-two Maylott branded a £40 payment ‘a joke’ and told Onwu she had demanded more from Emsoivwe. In a message she said: ‘I’ve asked for more.’
In a WhatsApp message she sent to Onwu, Maylott said: ‘Did you know it’s against the law to use another person name. It’s called fraud.’
The court heard she threatened to go to police despite taking parcels in at her Buckland home, adding in the message that she ‘had enough’. Some items she accepted were for Onwu’s girlfriend.
Onwu was arrested in his BMW on the day Emosivwe’s home was raided, with officers finding a driving licence and ID card in a different name in the car, and an application for a passport.
At couple Pinelopi Chatzikonstantinou and Victor Ngo’s home, officers found a document on a device containing hundreds of stolen identities, including bank card numbers and dates of birth.
Dad-of-two Ngo, who studied petroleum engineering at university in Portsmouth, claimed Emosivwe put them on his device.
Adel Qadir, who was previously jailed for having a fake passport, took in 80 orders arranged by Emosivwe at his home between March 2015 and November 2016, the court heard.
Deliveries were also made to conspirator Molade Fasuyi’s girlfriend’s home in Methuen Road, in Milton, including a £1,672 Breitling watch and £3,500 in 2016 using unsuspecting victims’ details hacked through a phishing email.
The court heard Fasuyi was ‘very good friends’ with Emosivwe. One message from Emosivwe said: ‘You went from selling Rolex to TVs to selling prams. Please stay in one lane.’
Adepoju had deliveries sent to his girlfriend’s home in Francis Avenue, Southsea, including trying to get a bank card sent.
Overall the amount of goods ordered to gang members’ homes was:
:: £129,000 worth of goods to Onwu’s address in Brune Close
:: £69,000 order to Ngo and PC homes in Raffles Court in Elphinstone Road, Southsea and at another address - including a £2,250 18ct gold chain and diamond necklace and a £430 iPad Mini.
:: £36,000 to Maylott’s home including a fridge. She was paid as little as £20 a time or Iceland grocery deliveries for using her home.
:: £98,000 to Qadir’s home in Hillsley Road, Paulsgrove, including a £2,500 Breitling watch and near-£5,000 diamond ring.
:: £6,900 worth of goods to Adepoju’s address.
:: £5,900 to Fasuyi’s girlfriend’s home in Methuen Road.
Goods were bought online from John Lewis, Ao.com, Vestry, Apple, River Island and jewellers’ shops, while cash transactions were also made.
On one of Emosivwe’s device police found an ‘instruction manual on how to commit fraud,’ which detailed how to get ‘100k easy’ by opening a credit card using someone else’s details, Mr Forster said.
He said it was unclear how all the data was obtained. He said: ‘Somehow or other the fraudsters got their hands on the data.’
The prosecutor added: ‘Either it was obtained by the fraudsters or it was acquired for money.’
A message from Emosivwe to an unknown party, uncovered by police, said: ‘Have you got any hacker I can buy from?’
Mr Forster said: ‘Whilst the crown can’t say how those details were obtained, certainly this conversation seems to do with hacking, which would be a way of getting such data.’
Emosivwe, 36, of Newcome Road in Fratton, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud. He was previously handed a suspended sentence for a £20,000 fraud involving stolen identities.
Robert Bryan, defending Emosivwe, said it was ‘unfair’ for him to be blamed for the entire operation. ‘It is wrong to put all the blame on him,’ he said.
‘Others were sending him messages asking how much could he give them for their Rolex. Sometimes he was a conduit.’
Mr Bryan said there was ‘no evidence’ of the fraudster hacking BT accounts but conceded that ‘didn’t stop him being the main facilitator who passed on information to others’.
He added: ‘There must have been people above him, though he was almost at the top (of the gang).
‘He has not lived a luxury lifestyle. If he was leader of the gang he has very little to show for it.’
Onwu, 31, of Wells Close, Milton, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud. He has no previous.
Toby Long, defending Onwu, said the defendant played a ‘leading role’ in orders delivered but as sole carer for his seven-year-old son he had with Maylott, pleaded for the ‘hardworking’ construction manager to be spared jail.
But Onwu was jailed for three years seven months.
Maylott, 27, of Purbrook Way, Leigh Park, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. She has previous for benefit fraud.
Her lawyer, Edward Hollingsworth, told the court she was ‘not someone pulling the strings’ but when offered money to accept goods at her address she would agree.
A text message from Maylott to Onwu, read out to the court, read: ‘I have proof you do fraud.’
Another said: ‘You only married me for a visa.’
Maylott was imprisoned for 16 months.
Ngo, 30, of Lowestoft Road, Wymering, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to convert criminal property. He has no previous but was locked-up for 43 months.
Chatzikonstantinou, 30, formerly of Highlands Road, Southsea, admitted conspiracy to convert criminal property. She has no previous. Her lawyer, John Oliver, said she exchanged a watch for cash but ‘didn’t know what was going on with the fraud let alone the extent’.
She was the only person not to be jailed, and was fined £1,000.
Qadir, 35, of Woofferton Road, Paulsgrove, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud. He has a previous conviction for having a fake passport he used to go for a ‘hair operation’ in Turkey.
Qadir’s barrister, James Caldwell, claimed his client was recruited by Emosivwe but only received £4,000 worth of goods. ‘He is not someone with a significant stake in the conspiracy,’ he said.
But Qadir was sent to prison for 29 months.
Fasuyi, 37, of Methuen Road, Eastney, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud. He received two years jail.
Adepoju, 40 , of London Road, North End, admitted conspiracy to commit fraud. He was incarcerated for 19 months.
Notices of deportation have been made to some of the defendants who are Iraqi, Nigerian and Greek nationals.