Cheshire couple sentenced for illegal money lending and money laundering

A husband and wife from Cheshire have been convicted of illegal money lending and money laundering offences.

Craig Lapenna, 57 and Samantha Lapenna, 45, who both reside in Wilmslow, were sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court on Wednesday, March 13.

Mr Lapenna was handed a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting 19 counts of illegal money lending between January 2015 and October 2017.  The defendant also pleaded guilty to one Proceeds of Crime offence.

Mrs Lapenna admitted one charge of money laundering between May 2017 and April 2018 and was handed a 12-month conditional discharge.

The case was prosecuted by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) in partnership with Cheshire East Council Trading Standards and Cheshire Constabulary.

In May 2017, investigators from the IMLT executed a warrant at the couple’s home on Torkington Road and seized documentation and electronic storage devices.  Mr Lapenna was subsequently arrested and interviewed under caution about the allegations.

The court heard how Mr Lapenna had tried to apply for a consumer credit licence to lend money in April 2011. However the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) refused his application because it was not satisfied that the defendant was a fit and proper person.

Prosecutor Richard Barraclough QC told the court that Mr Lapenna had continued to run his illegal money lending business after his arrest.

The prosecution added that the IMLT were able to build the picture of the defendants’ business by way of emails and banking records which evidenced illegal money lending activity.

The court heard that an analysis of emails found on Mr Lapenna’s phone and iPad demonstrated that within a short time of issuing a loan to a new borrower, the defendant would create a draft email and save it into one of several different folders.  The purpose of the emails was to track the progress of the individual loans he had made.

One victim who owned a print company borrowed £15,000 from the couple to purchase new machinery for his business.  He made weekly payments of £500 to the defendants and after several months he had soon paid £21,200 in interest payments alone.  He still owed the £15,000. 

Despite having no licence to conduct consumer credit activities, Mr Lapenna provided loans and collected the proceeds. The sums were paid into bank accounts in the name of both defendants, including their joint account.  The prosecution added that the monies were then used to finance the illegal money lending.

Speaking after the hearing, Tony Quigley head of the Illegal Money Lending Team said:

“This result will serve as a deterrent to those who continue to operate without authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority. Mr Lapenna had operated as an approved credit broker in the past and was familiar with the law and requirements to lend money. He continued to issue interest-only loans to desperate businessmen without any formal agreements. The purpose of the legislation is to protect consumers against exploitation and the defendants flouted this.  

“The IMLT will continue to work with council and police to bring illegal money lenders to justice.”

An estimated 310,000 households nationally are borrowing from illegal money lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant rates of interest to trap people into a spiral of debt.

Frank Jordan, Cheshire East Council executive director of place, said:

“We will not tolerate unauthorised money lenders operating in our borough. Our Trading Standards team work very closely with the England Illegal Money Lending Team to take action against unregulated activities and will respond to every report made by residents.

“Illegal money lending is a serious offence and can cause real misery for people and their families already facing financial pressures.”

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured more than 380 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to nearly 330 years’ worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £73.7 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 28,000 people.

A proceeds of crime timetable has been set.

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