Elderly and vulnerable residents across Yorkshire were systematically targeted by a conman who netted tens of thousands of pounds for carrying out worthless drainage work on their homes.
Julian Donoher, 36, placed bogus adverts in telephone directories to trick customers into thinking he was a reputable and reliable local trader who specialised in repairing blocked drains.
Instead, he lived in Derby, had no relevant qualifications, and had previous convictions for house burglaries, making threats to kill, assault, vehicle theft, and possessing cocaine and cannabis.
The long-running fraud was only exposed after a retired teacher from Harrogate reported paying £6,000 for work that should have cost no more than £100.
Trading standards officers found that he had conned 11 households in North, West and South Yorkshire out of almost £30,000, although it is believed many more cases have gone unreported.
The victims were aged between 63 and 82. One of them, Janet Coatman, from Harrogate, was ripped off while she planned a funeral for her husband, who had died the day before.
Details of the investigation emerged yesterday at Teesside Crown Court, where Donoher, of Campion Street, Derby, was jailed for three years.
He had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to 33 fraud and money laundering charges relating to crimes committed between September 2009 and July 2010.
Most of the offences were carried out in Harrogate, but Donoher also took advantage of customers in Selby, Addingham, Leeds, Doncaster and Rotherham.
In each case, his companies surveyed the customers’ drains and showed them grainy CCTV footage to indicate problems that supposedly needed fixing.
When drainage experts hired by trading standards officers later inspected the drains, they found the work had either not been done at all or had fallen far short of expectations.
Richard Bennett, prosecuting, told the court that Donoher had committed “a confidence fraud involving the deliberate targeting of a large number of vulnerable people.”
He said telephone numbers local to the victims were advertised for Donoher’s businesses in a “deliberate ploy to provide a sense of security” that the trader lived nearby.
After invoicing customers for his firms’ shoddy work, Donoher would launder the cheques through a clearing account operated by a company called The Money Shop, keeping the cash minus commission.
Mr Bennett said that, when interviewed by trading standard officers, Donoher “accepted being involved in certain transactions but denied being dishonest.
“He asserted that if a householder had been overcharged then it was the fault of others and not him. When confronted with the banking evidence he accepted cashing cheques from the various householders.”
Judge Howard Crowson, sentencing, said Donoher had been an “enthusiastic participant” in a “deliberately planned and professional fraud” that took advantage of vulnerable victims. He said Mrs Coatman’s case was particularly distressing.
“When you arrived,” the judge told Donoher, “she had just begun to deal with the death of her husband the day before and wanting to be relieved of the stress of her filling drains, but she was then taken advantage of by you.”
Adrian Dent, defending, told the court that Donoher had drink and drug problems in the past and there was no prospect of the money being repaid.
“He is insistent that there be no excuses,” Mr Dent added. “He is going to take his punishment and hopefully start afresh with a life that does not involve dishonesty.”
The scam was uncovered by North Yorkshire Council’s Trading Standards and Planning Services.