Heartless fraudsters conned the public out of £500,000 by buying Pudsey Bear outfits and posing as collectors for children’s charities – before splurging on luxury holidays and fast cars
- Group of seven criminals used charity merchandise to set up fake collections
- They pretended collect donations at UK supermarkets between 2011 and 2021
A gang of fraudsters conned the public out of more than £500,000 after buying Pudsey Bear outfits and posing as charity collectors.
A group of seven criminals used T-shirts, logos and marketing material from the charities to set up fake collections at supermarkets across England and Scotland between 2011 and 2021.
They claimed to be raising money for Children In Need, The Children’s Society, MIND, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and The Christie Fund, but only a small amount of the takings were handed over to the charities and the gang pocketed the rest.
On some occasions, the fraudsters, who were led by David Levi, 49, wore Pudsey Bear outfits which had been bought online, and used email addresses and websites set up to look like legitimate charities, Preston Crown Court heard.
Levi later spent the cash on a number of luxury treats including a £12,500 28-night stay at a villa in Australia, £10,500 in flights with Emirates and even £5,000 to import a Police Dodge Charger from the USA.
A gang of fraudsters, led by David Levi, 49 (pictured), conned the public out of more than £500,000 after buying Pudsey Bear outfits and posing as charity collectors
The group of seven criminals used T-shirts, logos and marketing material from the charities to set up fake collections at UK supermarkets between 2011 and 2021. Pictured: Levi posing as a charity collector for MIND in 2019
They claimed to be raising money for the charities but only a small amount of the takings were handed over to them and the gang pocketed the rest. Pictured: Cash collected from the charity buckets
The real figure that the gang took was likely to be much higher due to the large quantities of cash which passed through the their collection buckets, Preston Crown Court heard.
Children In Need says that just £30 can help pay for a food parcel for 6 children affected by poverty, while just £20 donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital can help the charity build new wards and facilities for seriously ill children.
Heading up the gang was convicted conman David Levi, 49, who claimed he ran a legitimate fundraising business and relied on disability benefits and an inheritance from his father to get by.
He paid the rent on his Lytham St Annes flat in cash and splashed out on business class flights to Australia and a Hummer, which he imported from the USA.
In 2015 he paid £12,500 for a 28-night stay at a luxury villa in Australia with a further £10,500 for luxury flights with Emirates.
When asked to account for the money he spent, Levi claimed he was working as an escort but was too embarrassed to declare the money to HMRC, and had inherited £100,000 in cash from his father.
In 2017, the conman, of Clifton Drive, St Annes, paid £5,000 to import a Police Dodge Charger vehicle from the USA and for work to make it roadworthy in the UK. He also owned a Hummer and a flight simulator, the court heard.
During the investigation, Levi was asked about 196 cash deposits totalling £47,835.55 which were made to his Santander account between 2011 and 2017.
He said he did not have any idea where that cash had come from, ‘I can’t remember at this moment’.
He then said he could have won at the casino a few times, it could have been from the bookies, he was owed money by people, it could have been from anywhere.
he gang used marketing material from charities, such as this Children’s In Need banner, to make their scam look legitimate
Assisting him in the office was Kaysha Beck, 31, who helped set up the charity collections in store. She contacted supermarkets claiming the collections had been authorised by the store’s community champions.
When collectors were turned away, Beck put pressure on supermarket staff to pay travel and accommodation costs, and claimed the collections had been authorised by head office.
Even when supermarket staff challenged the fraudsters about the bogus collections they were told they would lose their jobs or be reported to the national press.
Also involved in the scam were Howard Collins, 73, who helped organise collections and went out collecting. He introduced a number of people to GOSH and wrote letters claiming to be from the North of England Events Office – which did not exist.
William Ormand went out collecting, but the court heard that he was also involved in paying other collectors and appears to have assisted Levi. Martin Ebanks, 59, Robert Roy Ferguson, 63, and Stephen Chesterman, 63, also collected for the conspiracy.
Richard Atkins KC, prosecuting, said: ‘In essence it involved the defendants collecting monies from the public under the guise that the monies collected would all be handed over to the charities whose logos were being displayed.
‘The reality was that only a fraction of the monies handed over by members of the public ever reached the charities. The majority of the money was pocketed by the defendants.
‘In some instances it is obvious that monies were only deposited with the charities following a police intervention or other enquiry – obviously as a smokescreen.’
In 2014, Children in Need contacted Levi and Beck after becoming aware an email address purporting to be from the charity was being used to arrange collections.
Lawyers asked Levi to cease using the Pudsey Bear logo but within weeks, he was carrying out a collection in a Waitrose store, using the familiar branding.
The following year, he contacted the charity and asked to be registered a fundraiser or have an official endorsement from Children in Need. In 2016 and 2017, Beck applied for, and was sent, fundraising packs from the BBC charity.
Levi was arrested on June 21, 2017, and questioned about his involvement in the charity. But the following day he rang Kerry Howard, the Head of Operations at Children in Need. ‘His tone was anger and disgust’, Mr Atkins KC said.
The real figure that the gang took was likely to be much higher due to the large quantities of cash which passed through the their collection buckets, a court heard (Stock image)
‘He was complaining about an early morning wake-up call he had had from the Police. He said he was ringing to find out why Kerry Howard had submitted a report full of lies about a genuine fundraiser.
‘He claimed that PC Robinson had apologised to him having heard his side of the story and was disgusted with what Kerry Howard had done.
‘He told her it was a criminal offence to lie in a Police station and suggested that the Police would be knocking on her door.
‘He said he would be going to the press. It made her feel very uncomfortable. Needless to say, this was all untrue.’
Levi was arrested and bailed on a number of further occasions but in October 2022, police were informed he had been seen collecting at a Co-op store in Bollington, Cheshire. CCTV showed him entering the store with a folding table and a bag.
When he was arrested, officers seized Pudsey headwear, a yellow bucket and a Children in Need fundraising pack. On others occasions, while claiming to collect for the mental health charity MIND, Levi wore a red, sparkly bowler hat.
Other items seized during the five-year investigation included Children’s Society T-shirts and fleeces, diaries setting out dates for collections to take place, fake identity cards and letter headed paper.
Levi pleaded guilty to fraud and transferring criminal property in connection with the Children in Need conspiracy, fraud in connection with the MIND and Children’s Society conspiracies, and fraud while on bail for the Children in Need conspiracy.
Beck pleaded guilty to fraud and transferring criminal property in connection with the Children in Need conspiracy.
Ebanks pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the Children in Need conspiracy and the Children’s Society conspiracy, on the basis that he was involved from November 2017 to July 2017. He joined an existing conspiracy and was drawn n by Levi, making £60,000.
The prosecution agreed that if he paid £60,000.00 by way of compensation prior to sentence that we would not seek to proceed with a Proceeds of Crime Act application.
Collins pleaded guilty to fraud and transferring criminal property in connection with the GOSH conspiracy and fraud in connection with the Christie Fund conspiracy.
Chesterman pleaded guilty to fraud in connection to the GOSH conspiracy. He agreed to pay back £90,000 to avoid proceeds of crime proceedings.
Ferguson pleaded guilty to fraud and transferring criminal property in connection with the GOSH conspiracy.
Ormand was convicted of fraud and transferring criminal property in connection with the Children in Need conspiracy, and fraud in connection with the GOSH and Children’s Society conspiracies, follwoing a trial at Preston Crown Court.
All defendants will be sentenced on Thursday December 21, 2023.
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