Coltishall conman in court

The victims of a Coltishall conman who carried out a fraud amounting to more than �680,000 will get less than a third of their money back.

Richard Leeson, of Kings Road, was sentenced to 20 months in prison last year after he emailed customers to tell them his internet furniture business Pine Online had gone bust, when in fact he had moved his stock to a warehouse 10 miles away.

Leeson told customers they should seek reimbursement for the goods from online payment website PayPal.

Paypal reimbursed about 3,000 people, with an additional �50,000 left in unpaid rent, delivery and suppliers' costs.

At a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing this week, Southend Crown Court heard that the 41-year-old could only find assets worth �205,000 in compensation.

Judge John Lodge ordered the confiscation of the money, which is largely in the form of a plot of land in the Bahamas. The judge also pledged to jail Leeson for two-and-a-half years if he does not pay up the cash within six months. However, he conceded it may be necessary to extend that deadline in order to get the best price for the land.

Leeson lied about the fate of Pine Online in September 2008 and moved goods, which had been legitimately bought by his customers, from Yardley Business Park to another warehouse in Rettendon in Essex in order to sell them again. He was jailed for 20 months in April 2010 after pleading guilty to fraud.

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Pine Online was set up by Leeson, in Yardley Business Park, Luckyn Lane, Basildon, in 2005. The company is also believed to have traded as Pine On Line, purplehog11, and Click4Pine.

The company was wound up in the High Court in January 2009, and Leeson was declared bankrupt in the same month. The company sold flat-pack furniture via eBay, which uses PayPal to handle online transactions. In previous court cases, Leeson was described as a man of 'sterling good character' who was regarded very well by business associates. He was married with young children.

Despite early successes, the firm got into trouble in August 2008.

The difficulties prompted Leeson, who used to live in Benfleet in Essex, to pretend it had ceased to exist overnight.

He emailed customers and told them to seek reimbursement from PayPal for goods they had paid for.

Leeson immediately left the country. On his return, he was tailed by detectives before being arrested in February last year.

In addition to his jail sentence, he was banned from being a company director for seven years.

A spokesman for Paypal said they could not comment on the specific case but said in all fraud cases Paypal worked closely with local law enforcement.