Two women who ran an illegal lending racket worth more than £4 million have been sentenced.
Luz Guerra Villar, 65, and Leticia Manipol, 69, of Church Lane, Tooting, lent over £4.2 million to fellow Filipinos across South London, including many working at a London hospital.
Appearing for sentencing at Kingston Crown Court on Friday (February 4), Villar was sentenced to 18 months, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 220 hours of unpaid work.
Manipol was handed a 15-month prison sentence, suspended for two years with 200 hours of unpaid work.
The defendants had pleaded guilty to illegal money lending and money laundering charges between July 2003 and October 2019 at an earlier hearing.
The case was prosecuted by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), in partnership with the London Borough of Merton, Richmond upon Thames & Wandsworth Regulatory Services Partnership and the Metropolitan Police.
On October 22, 2019 officers from the IMLT executed a warrant at the defendants home in Wandsworth.
Villar was present at the property on the day the warrant was executed. She told investigating officers “I do lend money” while under caution and guided them to an upstairs bedroom where she referred to a notebook within a wardrobe. Cash totalling £1,740 was also seized along with electronic devices belonging to Villar.
During a search of the property, documentation outlining names and amounts were discovered in numerous books and ledgers, indicating that approximately £4.2 million worth of loans had been given out illegally over sixteen years. In the majority of cases, interest of 20% was charged on the loans.
Manipol was out of the country on the day the warrant was executed. On October 24, 2019, she was arrested at Gatwick Airport upon her return from Barcelona and electronic devices were seized from her.
A forensic examination of the defendants digital devices revealed dozens of SMS messages, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp messages which referenced loans.
Messages on Villar’s phone revealed a consistent pattern of lending with requests for loans, extensions upon time to repay loans, penalties for missing payments, the setting up of direct debits to repay loans, apologies for non-payments from numerous individuals and reference to interest applied to loans.
Villar tried to conceal the illegal enterprise by splitting transactions. One message sent to a victim said: “I can give you £10K this week and 10K next week, because if I will give it all in one go, I might be questioned.”
Officers also found a significant volume of messages and chat logs relating to loans on Manipol’s phone. One victim was told to act as a guarantor on a friend’s loan, the message said: “What is your friends name? you will have to act as her guarantor. Meaning if she can’t pay her loan, you will be the one to pay her loan.”
The court was told Villar issued interest bearing loans amounting to £2,741,865 and received £2,841,233 in repayments between July 2003 and October 2019.
Leticia Manipol, issued interest bearing loans of £1,462,502 and received £1,613,267 in repayments between 2008 and 2019.
Welcoming the sentence, Tony Quigley, Head of the England IMLT said: “Illegal money lenders are a scourge on society, taking advantage of people in desperate situations.
“The defendants in this case raked in millions of pounds from their illegal activity and targeted financially vulnerable victims in the Filipino community. I hope this sentence reflects the seriousness of this offending.
“These unscrupulous lenders often present themselves as a community service or as a friend to build trust but can quickly turn nasty if repayments are not met. Vulnerable borrowers are often unaware of the interest being charged on the loans and the dangers that illegal lenders pose.
“Perpetrators need to realise that this kind of activity will not be tolerated and by working with our partners we will do everything in our power to ensure those involved are brought to justice.”
Wandsworth Council’s community safety spokesperson Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “We strongly support the work of the Illegal Money Lending Team and their ongoing efforts to tackle unscrupulous lenders and loan sharks who pose such a threat to some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“Here in Wandsworth we’ve helped set up a local credit union so that people on low incomes who find themselves excluded from mainstream banks and credit companies can obtain an affordable, safe and ethical loan. Our advice would always be to contact the credit union and steer clear of the sharks.”
Recorder Caspar Glyn QC said he acknowledged the offences were ‘very serious’ matters and there was ‘high culpability’.
The defendants will now face a Proceeds of Crime hearing to recover assets and money amassed through their criminal activity.
Anyone with concerns about illegal money lending can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline in confidence on 0300 555 2222 or access support online at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.