A DEVON loan shark who operated an illegal money lending business over a period of 9 years and preyed on vulnerable people in Torquay and Newton Abbot, has been sentenced to 27 months imprisonment at Exeter Crown Court on Friday, 18 August.
Loan shark Paul Stretch, aged 58, of Twickenham Road in Newton Abbot, pleaded guilty to illegal money lending and money laundering between January 2007 and July 2016 at an earlier hearing.
The defendant was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) who work in partnership with the Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service and Devon and Cornwall police.
When IMLT officers executed a warrant at Stretch’s home address on 26th January 2016, documentation containing borrowers’ details, electronic devices and £3070 in cash was seized.
On behalf of the prosecution, Simon Mortimer told the court that Paul Stretch had been operating an illegal money lending business over a period of 9 years and was providing personal loans to people in and around the Torbay area of Devon and had received payments in excess of £500,000.
The defendant had previously worked as a self-employed agent for a legitimate loans company between October 2002 and April 2014. During this period, Stretch was made aware by his employer that he was not allowed to ‘parallel lend’ or conduct consumer credit activities personally unless he was authorised to do so.
A financial investigation revealed, over the period in question, here had been over £300,000 cash deposits into accounts held by Stretch or his close family.
The loan records seized were analysed and it became clear that Stretch was targeting people he was familiar with through his employment with local, legitimate, loan companies. Only one witness spoken to had not been or was not current a customer of one of the legitimate companies.
People are urged never to use loan sharks who may refuse to tell the borrower how much they owe, how long they will be repaying for or the interest rate they will be charged. Often they do not give paperwork and loans will just keep growing even if the borrower is making regular payments. These criminals may appear friendly at first, but can resort to violence, threats and intimidation if payments are not met.
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said:
“This result sends a clear message that loan sharks who are caught operating an illegal money lending business will be pursued and prosecuted by the IMLT.
“Loan sharking will not be tolerated in Devon and we will continue to work with local trading standards and the police to combat this under-reported crime. Loan sharks are criminals who prey on vulnerable people, exploiting them for their own financial gain.
“If you have been the victim of a loan shark, please call us on our 24-hour hotline 0300 555 2222. We will take information anonymously or in confidence. Alternatively, you can use our website to report a loan shark online www.stoploansharks.uk.”
Sentencing Stretch to 27 months imprisonment, His Honour Judge Cottle said:
“This was a substantial business, you were charging swingeing interest rates to vulnerable people and a deterrent sentence is necessary to deter others who might be tempted to go in to the same type of business.”
Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured more than 380 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to nearly 328 years’ worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £72.5 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 27,000 people.
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
Visit the website www.stoploansharks.uk
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject