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£5m west Wales mortgage fraud

swansea crown courtA WEST WALES estate agent and three businessmen who tried to rig the mortgage market have been jailed today “for their greed and dishonesty.” The four tried to make a fortune out of a rising housing market—and another fortune as prices dipped. Swansea Crown Court heard how in some cases they deliberately defaulted on mortgage payments, and then invented land disputes in the hope of buying back the houses at lower prices.

Ben Pickering, once a prospective Conservative candidate for parliament, and now living at Trevarron, Barrack Lane in Truro, Cornwall, admitted conspiring to defraud banks and building societies. He was jailed for six years. Mark Cainen, of West Cross Avenue in Swansea, and former financial adviser Paul John, aged 44, of Greenfield Crescent, Llansamlet in Swansea, were convicted of the same offence after a trial. Cainen was jailed for eight years and John for three years and four months.

West Wales estate agent Emma Davey,aged 34 of Rhydargaeau in Carmarthen, was jailed for one year, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work for the community. All four now face a Proceeds of Crime Act investigation as the government tries to confiscate the profit made from the £5 million fraud. Carl Harrison, prosecuting, said the four had been involved in a sophisticated conspiracy during which they successfully applied for mortgages using false names, created false identities, invented salaries and tried to manipulate the market to their advantage.

They frequently sold properties to each other and bought computer software capable of producing convincing looking payslips. Mr Harrison said Pickering and Cainen were at the heart of the conspiracy, which ran for eight years. Mr Harrison added: “Pickering and Cainen acted as buyers, sellers and points of contact in the conspiracy and they provided false information such as shadow salary payments, invoices, pay slips and P60 documents giving details of tax said to have been paid.

“There is some evidence Cainen was directing Ben Pickering, telling him what he should do and the order in which he should do it. “They were effectively stealing the identities of other people and companies and taking the identities of people of a similar age to get mortgages approved.” During Cainen’s trial e-mails were produced by the prosecution that showed Cainen saying to Pickering: “Get your smoke and mirrors out.”

Another from Cainen criticised Pickering “for not being a good crook”. At one time Cainen had more than 20 bank accounts in different names and Pickering obtained software to make false pay slips. Paul John was sacked by a Swansea finance firm in 2008 when a colleague found a false mortgage application for his wife in his desk drawer. The court heard after his arrest, Pickering continued to work as a film director and made two successful films, however due to financial hardship, he was now living in the attic of his inlaws’ home.

The judge suspended Davey’s jail term due to previous good character and the fact she was “prevailed upon” Judge Thomas said at the sentencing hearing today: “I have been told in letters on behalf of Pickering that the economic downturn and its effect on the housing market was the driving factor. “I don’t accept that argument in any shape or form, these offences were fraudulent from the outset. This was fuelled not by economic necessity but by greed.”