A former magistrate and a company director who crudely faked documents in a £1m VAT fraud linked to the house building trade in Lancashire, were jailed yesterday.
Simon Price, 44, of Gloucester, who was a magistrate in Lancashire and Gloucestershire, pleaded guilty to 27 charges involving VAT fraud and falsifying documents at Bolton Magistrates Court in September 2012.
His accomplice John Smith, 45, a building company director from Preston, denied 11 similar charges and was found guilty of 10 at Manchester Crown Court on 3 May 2013.
Both men were arrested by HMRC officers in September 2011 in connection with fraudulent VAT claims totalling almost £1m, submitted by Ice Blue Development Limited between 2008 and 2010.
Simon De Kayne assistant director criminal investigation HMRC, said: ‘This pair made incredibly crude attempts to falsify invoices and financial guarantees in a circle of fraudulent transactions.
It was a complete cut-and-paste regime that unravelled as soon as HMRC officers investigated their business activities. The proceeds from the fraudulent VAT repayments were diverted into their bank accounts in an attempt to stave off their company’s and own domestic debts.
The fact that Price was an acting magistrate in the Preston area at the time of the fraud makes it more shocking.
‘Tax fraud is treated extremely seriously by HMRC and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or criminal gangs believed to be attacking the Public Revenue in this way.’
The fraud involved companies within the Ice Blue group, controlled by Price, and Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd in Preston, controlled by Smith. A number of inter-company invoices had been created, purely to allow one company in the group, Ice Blue Developments Limited, to falsely reclaim VAT repayments from HMRC.
Price was responsible for all the VAT returns for the Ice Blue group and Smith was responsible for the building company’s paperwork.
During searches of business premises at Cottam Lane Business Centre, Preston, a huge number of false documents were seized. These include doctored invoices for building services received and faked references/correspondence from banks, solicitors and other institutions.
The investigation uncovered letter headings from legitimate businesses that had been manipulated to create false documents.
Examination of their email accounts showed Price and Smith referring to ‘mickeying’ up documents to suggest that Ice Blue was a reputable company and in good financial order to tender for contracts with local housing associations and to apply for bank loans.
Smith was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and disqualified from being a company director for 5 years.
Price was sentenced to 40 months in prison and disqualified from being a company director for six years.