Criminal network is brought to justice after six years of fraud

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Justice has finally been served on the last three members of a Yorkshire criminal network which netted millions of pounds through the fraudulent running of car washes and a high-profile restaurant.

Mark Nelson, Stephen Farman and Craig Bower were all given suspended prison sentences at Leeds Crown Court yesterday for their part in the conspiracy, which ran for six years.

It brings to an end a series of court cases centring on the activities of Bower’s father John Elam, a former property developer and car dealer who is believed to have made at least £10 million from the fraud. The Yorkshire Post revealed last week how Elam had been given jail sentences totalling nine years after being convicted of conspiring to defraud, assault and perverting the course of justice.

He built his crooked business empire with the help of a ring of associates, including disgraced Bradford solicitor Philip Brown and former Formula 3000 racing driver Russell Spence.

Yesterday the court was told that Elam was also assisted by Nelson, his former bank manager at Yorkshire Bank in Ilkley, and Farman, a Hessle-based accountant with no formal qualifications who worked as his book-keeper.

Judge Scott Wolstenholme heard that, between October 2000 and September 2006, Elam took ownership of nine former petrol stations in Leeds and Bradford and turned them into hand car wash businesses.

The sites were run by operating companies which each ran up debts, only to be dissolved and replaced by new firms that remained under Elam’s influence.

Money owed to tax authorities, utilities companies and other creditors went unpaid and most of the proceeds went to Elam, 52, formerly of York Place, Leeds.

Bower managed the car washes on behalf of his father, who has been ordered to repay £2m within six months or he will face a further six years.

The judge said it had been an “audacious fraud” that mirrored another scam involving the former Medina restaurant in Leeds, for which Elam, Brown, Farman and Nelson were given jail terms in 2009.

He publicly commended 25 West Yorkshire Police officers who worked on the investigation, which was codenamed Operation Teddington.

Timothy Forte, defending Nelson, said that he had entered the car wash conspiracy in 2005 and remained involved for less than a year.

“He was Mr Elam’s employee, doing as he was told by Mr Elam,” Mr Forte added.

Andrew Stubbs QC, for Farman, said that he had not been in the network’s “management structure” and financial investigators had found his total benefit from the fraud came to only £371. “The effect of his first period of imprisonment has been dramatic upon him,” Mr Stubbs added.

“His wife has stood by him and run up huge debts.

“All the equity in the house which they have tried to sell for many years is exhausted.

“There simply is no money left in the family household.”

David Fish QC, for Bower, said he had been “essentially used as a dogsbody” by his father, who had “sucked” him into the long-running conspiracy.

Elam and Bower’s mother had split when their son was young, but Bower wanted a closer relationship with his father and started working for him.

Nelson, 46, of The Lilacs, Guiseley; Farman, 50, of Tall Trees, Hessle; and Bower, 34, of Waterside Court, Rodley, Leeds, were each sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for a year, after admitting conspiring to defraud.

They were ordered to do 175, 150 and 120 hours of unpaid work respectively.

Spence, 51, was jailed for 13 months last week after he admitted conspiracy to defraud.

He lived in Kildwick Hall, near Skipton – a mansion once valued at £3.5m.

Other men sentenced previously for their part in the conspiracy were Brown, 53, of Wells Road, Ilkley; Howard Fowler, of Bradford; Paul Mooney, 68, of Manscombe Road, Bradford; and Paul Bane, 56, of Banklands Avenue, Silsden.