A CHORLEY couple have been ordered to pay back thousands of pounds in proceeds of crime, following a confiscation hearing at Preston Crown Court last Friday.

Loan shark John McCullagh, 54, was jailed for 15 months at the court last August after pleading guilty to illegal money-lending between July 2008 and August 2016.

Karen Roberts, 58, received a nine-month suspended prison sentence and told to carry out 160 hours’ unpaid work after she was found guilty by a jury of laundering cash from her partner’s illegal money-lending business. The defendants have now been ordered to pay back £50,322 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002).

The case was prosecuted by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) who work in partnership with Lancashire County Council Trading Standards and Lancashire Constabulary.

When a warrant was executed at the couple’s home in Isleworth Drive on August 10, 2016, IMLT officers’ recovered loan-related documents, electronic and storage devices and more than £4,000 in cash.

At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Jonathan Barker told the court that McCullagh was not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to lend money during the eight year period he was running his illegal money-lending business.

Mr Barker added that McCullagh ‘clearly knew he needed a licence’ to carry out his money-lending business as he had previously worked for a licensed lender between 1986 and 2001.

The prosecution told the court that McCullagh’s customers were often in a vulnerable financial position. He was charging borrowers £50 interest for every £100 borrowed.

McCullagh advertised in leaflets distributed across the community and would visit customers’ home addresses to collect repayments or would instruct them to pay the money into his accounts. The court heard how one victim was shouted at by McCullagh and was told that he would send ‘the big boys around’ if she did not pay him.

Mr Barker saidwent on to say that McCullagh shouted at another victim as she could not afford to repay him because she had to buy flowers for an aunt’s funeral. Although threats were never issued, a third victim, who suffered from depression and anxiety, was so worried that he used to hide in his bedroom to avoid McCullagh.

The prosecution moved on to Roberts’ illegal activities and told the court how £50,000 was transferred from a business account held by John McCullagh into her bank account the day after her partner was arrested by the IMLT (11 August 2016).

Karen Roberts was arrested and interviewed under caution by investigators on September 29, 2016. She accepted the receipt of the £50k but denied knowing or suspecting that the money came from crime. Records recovered from the defendants’ home address indicated that McCullagh had received thousands of pounds in loan repayments.

Tony Quigley, head of the IMLTEngland Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “The Proceeds of Crime Act ensures that loan sharks are not profiting from deceitful illegal money lending activity. This result sends out a clear message that loan sharks who are caught flouting the law will be prosecuted and stripped of their available assets.” This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated in Lancashire and we will continue to work with the council and police to crack down on loan sharks.”

County Cllr Albert Atkinson, Deputy Leader of Lancashire County Council with responsibility for Trading Standards, said:”Illegal money lending is an often hidden problem which has a terrible impact on our communities, leaving vulnerable people in financial difficulty.

“It is a crime and not something we will tolerate in Lancashire. We will continue to work closely with the Illegal Money Lending Team and the police to tackle this problem.”