Waterlooville pensioner ‘hoodwinked’ into laundering £100k in online love con

Michele Ross Picture: UKNIP/Jason Kay
Michele Ross Picture: UKNIP/Jason Kay
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PENSIONER Michele Ross laundered nearly £100,000 after falling in love with a conman.

Detectives fear the cash flowing through the 69-year-old’s bank account came from victims of scams and could have gone on to fund drug and human trafficking, the illicit arms trade and terrorism abroad.

OAP Ross, of Jason Place, Waterlooville, was even warned by police on April 2 last year she was being used as a ‘money mule’.

But Portsmouth Crown Court heard she carried on laundering the cash in the hope a man she fell in love with online would be with her.

Instead she has been given a suspended jail sentence – and has handed over all her assets to police and now lives in a council house.

Prosecutor Audrey Archer said Ross met ‘Albert Harrison’ online and once met up with him in person.

Ms Archer said: ‘Large sums were going into her account, that was in addition to her benefits that she was receiving from the Department for Work & Pensions.

‘Those monies were then withdrawn by the defendant and sent on to others using MoneyGram and Western Union.

‘She was in fact using alias names, with Western Union in particular, to transfer monies to other persons.’

Despite Ross using fake names she was tracked down by her bank account, Ms Archer added.

Cash was being sent abroad to Australia and Sweden, along with transfers within this country.

The court heard Ross transferred £91,328 out of her Nationwide account after she was given the warning.

But outside court Detective Constable Nick Wright said the figure that flowed through her account in total was possibly more than £200,000.

Det Con Wright, who works in Hampshire Constabulary’s economic crime unit, said: ‘It will potentially come from other victims.

‘It then goes abroad and that will be funding drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism and arms.

‘As soon as it leaves the country it will be used for nefarious means – it’s effectively money muling.’

Officers arrested Ross when they were alerted to her activity – she gave a ‘no comment’ interview.

Christopher Prior, defending, said: ‘It all stems from starting a relationship with a gentleman online, giving his name as Albert Harrison, but there are some doubts.

‘She developed a relationship, she met him on one occasion.

‘Then he went to Malaysia on business and asked for help in dealing with business transactions. She took him at face value.’

He added she had not benefited from the laundering and even lost out after the man persuaded her to take out personal loans to send cash to him.

A man purporting to be his solicitor even emailed her leading up to her own trial saying if she paid £700 he would provide documents proving she was not at fault.

Ross’s solicitors persuaded her she should not pay the cash, the court heard.

‘Having been on her own and being somewhat lonely she developed an attachment to this person who preyed on her.’

Judge Roger Hetherington sentenced Ross, who held on to the dock as he spoke, to eight months in prison suspended for two years.

He said: ‘You evidently believed that you were in love with him and that he was in love with you in what appears to have been a lonely life that you were living.

‘That led you to be hoodwinked by his suggestion that you were simply helping him out in legitimate business transactions.

‘Even if through naivety that was your original belief you were specifically warned by the police in April 2014 that in fact what was going on here was money laundering and that you should desist from it.

‘Despite that warning you continued to do so.

‘It’s said on your behalf that was a very stupid decision, that you were hoping for the best.’

He added: ‘I have no doubt that you that you realised that the money was criminal property but you carried on because you still believed there was some hope of some genuine relationship with this individual.’

Ross pleaded guilty on a basis to becoming concerned in a money-laundering arrangement.

Her accepted basis was that she did not benefit financially from the laundering and the figure taken into consideration by the court was calculated from transfers only after she was given the warning.

Making a confiscation order, Judge Hetherington said the benefit was £91,000 and the amount available was £1,810.21.

She now has 28 days to pay the £1,810 or faces six months in prison.

Ross, who has no previous convictions, must also pay £1,000 in costs in six months.

She must complete 12 months supervision with 12 sessions of a women’s programme.