THREE men conned more than £330,000 from the public who believed they were donating to injured servicemen and women, a jury was told yesterday.
Sellers in military-style clothing representing the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) UK Ltd targeted high streets, shopping centres and event venues across the UK selling raffle tickets.
Tickets cost £2.50 each with the chance to win a prestige car or £10,000 in cash, Preston Crown Court was told.
The stated purpose on the tickets was to raise £10,000 for WWP UK Ltd which would give handouts to needy ex-forces personnel.
Collections were also taken in buckets while tickets were sold from stalls. One sales event in Skipton town centre was described to the court by a witness whose boyfriend was serving in Afghanistan as “doing a roaring trade”.
However none of the proceeds went anywhere near an injured serviceman or woman, said prosecutors for Blackpool Council’s Trading Standards department.
It was later found that more than 133,000 tickets were sold out of more than 180,000 printed and they generated sales of £332,707.
The organisers said the money from the ticket sales was intended to go on wages and administration costs and that the bucket collections were the only source of cash for WWP UK Ltd, which was not a registered charity.
But Ben Williams, prosecuting, said William Knight, 51, John Wadsworth, 46, and Patrick Jarrett, 49, acted dishonestly to defraud the public.
He said: “The defendants agreed with one another to sell raffle tickets as a means of making money for themselves.
“It doesn’t matter precisely how many tickets were printed or sold.
“None of the proceeds went anywhere near an injured serviceman or woman.
“All this was really done to make the purchaser believe that all or at least some of the £2.50 they handed over was going to this worthwhile cause.
“They were being deliberately misled.”
An investigation was launched following a number of complaints, including one from the charity Help for Heroes.
The competition was run by a company called Keystone Fundraising of which Knight and Wadsworth were directors, who in turn were both also directors of WWP UK Ltd.
Jarrett was also a director of Keystone for a short time and together with Knight sold tickets themselves.
Mr Williams said Keystone as the fundraiser and WWP UK Ltd as the beneficiary were “for all intent and purpose the same creature” operated from the same registered address in Blackpool.
Help for Heroes had previously worked with Keystone Fundraising on a different competition draw but the charity later cuts its ties and said it did not want it collecting monies on its behalf.
Knight eventually handed over a donation to Help for Heroes but the prosecutor said this “was at best an attempt to provide an air of legitimacy”.
He said a similar motive existed for the bucket collections alongside the prize draw sales, although he added that part of the £7,600 raised went towards the £10,000 cash prize drawn under the supervision of council officers in June 2010.
When interviewed by the council, Knight said that he was a paid professional fundraiser and that no collections could be made without the selling of tickets.
Sellers were paid between 25p and £1 per ticket depending on the number sold and the rest of the monies went on wages, administrative costs and expenses, he said.
Giving evidence, one woman said she bought two such tickets from men in “Army uniform” in Skipton town centre.
Elaine Farrier said the sellers were shouting: “Help wounded British soldiers.”
She said: “I went up to one of them and I asked if they were helping Help for Heroes and he said yes.”
She said her boyfriend was serving in Afghanistan at the time and her uncle was a staff sergeant in the Army.
She thought it strange when she asked the vendor what regiment he served in and he did not reply.
“They were doing a roaring trade,” she told the jury.
“They gave the impression that they were representing the Army.
“I’m quite sure the person did say they were affiliated to Help for Heroes, definitely. Otherwise I would not have purchased the ticket.”
Knight, of Midgeland Road, Blackpool; Wadsworth, of Church Street, Blackpool; and Jarrett, of Teal Court, Blackpool, all deny conspiracy to defraud and possession of criminal property, namely the monies acquired from the ticket sales, between December 2009 and June 2010.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.