A Black Country illegal money lender who pocketed £340,000 from vulnerable customers has been sentenced.
John Guest, 62, from Upper Gornal, Dudley, admitted two charges of unlawful money lending, another of concealing or removing criminal property and also possessing criminal property at an earlier hearing.
Appearing in Wolverhampton Crown Court today (18 June), Guest was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 80 hours unpaid work.
Joseph Millington, prosecuting, said Guest made £340,000 in six years running an illegal money lending operation.
Mr Millington said Guest had worked as a self-employed agent for various doorstep loan companies for over 20 years before moving into unlawful money lending.
The prosecution added that Guest took advantage of his reputation of being in the legitimate home credit industry to identify previous customers for his own financial gain. Once he identified these customers he started parallel lending on the side of a legitimate book.
The unlicensed loans activity took place between July 2012 and August 2018 and Guest used some of the old company payment books to provide loans to customers.
The prosecution went on to demonstrate that Guest issued over 270 loans ranging from £100 to £3,000 to 58 borrowers.
He charged customers interest of between 50% and 100% and consistently topped up loans to significantly increase his profit margins.
The majority of known borrowers were paying off two or more loans at the same time.
The court heard that the loan records were recycled and Guest had ripped out previously used pages and placed stickers on the covers to obscure previous handwriting and company logos.
In April 2018, the IMLT received a report that former agent John Guest had been providing illegal loans in the guise of an authorised doorstep loan company to make his business look legitimate.
Investigators executed a warrant at Guest’s home in August 2018 and recovered customer agreements and payments books containing details of loans issued and collections. A large sum of cash (£18,240) was also found inside a safe.
Bundles of cash found inside a safe at John Guest’s home
The prosecution said Guest was making £1,500 a week from loan repayments at the time of his arrest.
Speaking after the hearing, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, Tony Quigley said: “John Guest abused his position of trust with borrowers as well as the legitimate companies he had previously engaged with. He set himself up as an illegal money lender and took advantage of his former customers.
“Guest was well aware of the consequences of engaging in money lending activities without authorisation but continued to parallel lend on his own accord. We hope this sentence serves as a deterrent to those involved in this type of activity. Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a loan shark is urged to contact the confidential hotline on 0300 555 2222.”
Councillor Laura Taylor, cabinet member responsible for trading standards, said: “We’re really glad to see that this case has come to court and applaud the work of the illegal money lending team whom we were pleased to assist.
“Loan sharks are contemptuous individuals, preying on the most vulnerable people. There is never any need to turn to these exploitative criminals, if people do have money worries and don’t know where to turn help and advice is available from Citizens Advice, the Local Welfare Assistance LOAN Scheme and Castle & Crystal Credit Union.”
In passing sentence, His Honour Judge Kershaw said: “You ran this business over a substantial period and culpability is high. Money lending has to be highly regulated because if it isn’t people suffer terribly.
“You had a large customer base and manipulated paperwork. The cash found at your premises was substantial which was indicative to the nature of the business and profit you was earning. Your customers had multiple loans which is a serious consequence for people as they become trapped in money lending debt.”
A POCA timetable has been set.
To report a loan shark, call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222, text a report to 078600 22116 or complete a secure form here.