Merton Council and Sussex Police put fraudsters away for seven years

Merton Council and Sussex Police have sent down two fraudsters for seven years and an associate for 21 months.

Merton’s trading standards team and Sussex Police closed the net on Sussex men Paul Spicer (35) of Dyke Road, Brighton, his twin brother Gregory Spicer (35), of The Drive also in Brighton and Lee O’Donnell (62) of Eaton Gardens, Hove in Operation Cantonese. The men were convicted at Lewes Crown Court on 1 June 2010 for conspiracy to defraud. The prison sentences followed a five-week trial.

The fraudsters may have obtained up to £5 million from unsuspecting investors over a four-year period.

The successful conviction follows a complaint made by a resident to Merton Council’s trading standards team in January 2006 after they received a glossy brochure purportedly from Andrew Baxter UK Racing Investments encouraging them to join a horseracing betting syndicate, when in fact it was a fake brochure from Paul and Gregory Spicer. The brochure contained misleading text such as ‘In conjunction with’, ‘recommended by the Financial Times’ and ‘guaranteed profits’. It also contained an application form offering the recipient the opportunity to join the Andrew Baxter tipster service. Four options were made available ranging from £49 for 20 winners (£50,000 profit) to £199 for 200 winners (£500,000 profit). The application form included an address in Wimbledon from where members in the racket would collect the post and bank any cheques. Some of the consumers who signed up to Andrew Baxter UK Racing Investment were subsequently targeted for further payments by offering a share in a horse or an investment in a thoroughbred horse, bloodstock or a horse that was being imported from abroad.

Merton received other complaints about the same brochure and similar scams under the fictitious names of David Best Racing, Raymond Miller, Tim O’Brien, The Money System, Anthony LLoyd, Robert Carter, Paul Howell. These later turned out to be run by the Spicer brothers and Lee O’Donnell.

Hundreds of thousands of fraudulent brochures were sent unsolicited to consumers across the country, with evidence suggesting that this had been happening since 1999. The brochures all contained promises and guarantees of profits as well as testimonials from satisfied users, most of which are thought to be fictitious.

Restraint orders were put in place for the defendants’ possessions shortly after they were arrested last year and the police and Merton Council are now planning formal confiscation proceedings against them to require them to pay an estimated £5million they gained from the fraud.

While Merton was investigating residents’ complaints about the scam, Sussex Police were also making enquiries into Lee O’Donnell trading as John McKracken. Evidence linked their case with Paul and Gregory Spicer and in March 2009 Sussex Police and Merton Council started working jointly on the case.

Merton Council cabinet member for environmental sustainability and regeneration Councillor Andrew Judge said: ‘Merton Trading Standards and West Sussex Police are to be congratulated. These tricksters have been caught and convicted and so will others who attempt similar schemes. This case is a warning to all those who seek to defraud the public.’

Detective Constable Val Henwood said; ‘This was an excellent example of co-operation between law enforcement agencies. We separately had information about the activities of these men but were soon able to work together and eventually bring them to court.

‘This case serves as a timely reminder to horse racing punters – be very careful about entrusting your money to anyone. The old saying applies – if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.’