Norwich businesses conned out of thousands in scam - but culprits now facing jail
Â© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
Fraudsters who conned small businesses and schools in the Norwich area out of thousands of pounds over a five-year period have finally been brought to justice.
Boughton-Fox, of Thorpe St Andrew, pictured, who was chairman of Great Yarmouth-based Business Telecom Ltd, was yesterday found guilty of consipiring to defraud companies.
He was warned he faces imprisonment when he is sentenced along with other members of his team.
Organisations were fleeced by Business Telecom Ltd, whose smooth-talking sales staff lied to customers as they tied them into long-running contracts to secure lucrative commissions.
The impact of the sales techniques saw Business Telecom grow from an organisation with a turnover of £350,000 in 1999 to £4.5m in 2007.
Its chairman Boughton-Fox, 48, from Yarmouth Road, had a salary of £600,000 and bought the luxury Thorpe Hall, which has now been sold, from the proceeds, while sales manager Jonathan Parish earned up to £40,000 in a good month.
Yesterday Boughton-Fox, 48, was found guilty of conning businesses and schools in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Boughton-Fox had denied conspiring to defraud businesses and individuals of more than £100,000 between 2003 and 2008, but was found guilty by a 10 to two majority verdict after a 10-week trial at Ipswich Crown Court.
Also before the court was Jonathan Parish, 42, of The Hills, Reedham, who denied the same charge and was found guilty on Monday.
One of their victims, Cherie Williams, who is joint owner of Meadowgreen Dog Rescue Centre, near Loddon, said they were “wicked, greedy people”.
“We had to pay £14,000 to buy ourselves out of the contract and in solicitors’ fees, which is a massive amount for us, and something we are still paying,” she said.
Antingham and South Repps Primary School, near North Walsham, was also targeted, and head teacher Sue Day said today that the money they lost could have paid for children’s education.
Boughton-Fox and Parish will be sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court on April 27 along with another employee Neil Debenham, 28, of East Somerton, near Winterton, who admitted the same charge at an earlier hearing.
Adjourning sentence on Boughton-Fox, Judge Peter Thompson warned him that he could be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
A fourth employee Daniel Cullen, 28, of Hatfield, Herts also previously admitted conspiracy to defraud and will be sentenced at St Albans Crown Court at a later date.
Norfolk County Council’s Trading Standards carried out an intensive and extensive investigation following complaints from businesses about Business Telecom’s sales techniques.
Following the verdict, David Collinson, head of Public Protection, Norfolk County Council, said: “I am extremely pleased with the verdict.
“These individuals knowingly conspired together over a number of years to defraud small businesses, voluntary organisations and schools in Norfolk and across the region - telling a number of lies in order to lead them to enter into expensive and lengthy lease agreements for telecommunications systems and accessories.
“Customers were cold called by the company and visited by sales staff, with dishonest themes involved in the sales pitch ranging from the cost of a lease agreement with them, the length of the lease agreement and cancellation charges, through to the company’s false associations with BT (British Telecom), and lies about the need to upgrade phone systems due to lines and systems becoming digital and the need to protect them from power surges.
“These lies were extremely profitable for the business and for these individuals, with the total value of the leases sold via fraudulent misrepresentations exceeding well over £1m and the individuals themselves each earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
“Small to medium-sized businesses and organisations were the prey of these individuals and after being misled about what they were entering into they were left tied into expensive and lengthy lease agreements - leaving some with real financial difficulties.”
During the trial, 51 victims, including small schools and charities, gave evidence. The typical cost of a lease agreement that businesses were led to sign-up to saw them paying on average £21,000 over a seven-year period.
Were you one of the firm’s victims? Call crime reporter Ben Kendall on 01603 772423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org