A Cheshire husband and wife have been convicted of illegal money lending and money laundering offenses.
Craig Lapenna, 57, and Samantha Lapenna, 45, both of whom reside in Wilmslow, were sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court.
The former Lapenna was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, after admitting 19 counts of illegal lending of money between January 2015 and October 2017.
He also pleaded guilty to a proceeds of crime offense.
His wife admitted to a money laundering charge between May 2017 and April 2018 and was released on condition of 12 months.
The case was pursued by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) in partnership with Cheshire East Council Trading Standards and Cheshire Constabulary.
An IMLT spokesperson said in May 2017 that their investigators executed a warrant at the couple’s home on Torkington Road and seized documents and electronic storage devices.
Craig Lapenna was then arrested and questioned on bail over the allegations.
The court heard how he tried to apply for a consumer credit license to lend money in April 2011.
However, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) denied his claim because it was not satisfied that the defendant was a fit and suitable person.
Prosecutor Richard Barraclough QC told the court that Lapenna continued to operate his illegal money lending business after his arrest.
The prosecution added that the IMLT was able to gain insight into the defendants’ business through emails and bank statements demonstrating illegal money-lending activity.
The court heard that an analysis of emails found on Craig Lapenna’s phone and iPad showed that shortly after granting a loan to a new borrower, the defendant would create a draft email and would save it in one of the different folders.
The purpose of the emails was to track the progress of the individual loans he had made.
A victim who owned a printing house borrowed Â£ 15,000 from the couple to buy new machinery for her business.
He made weekly payments of Â£ 500 to the defendants and, after several months, quickly paid Â£ 21,200 in interest payments, again due to the Â£ 15,000 he had originally borrowed.
Although he was not licensed to conduct consumer credit business, Craig Lapenna made loans and received the proceeds.
The sums were paid into bank accounts in the name of the two defendants, including their joint account.
The prosecution added that the money was then used to finance the loan of illegal money.
Speaking after the hearing, Tony Quigley, head of IMLT, said: âThis result will have a deterrent effect on those who continue to operate without the authorization of the Financial Conduct Authority.
âMr. Lapenna had worked as a licensed credit broker in the past and knew the law and the requirements for lending money.
“He continued to give interest-only loans to desperate businessmen without any formal agreement. The purpose of the legislation is to protect consumers from exploitation and the defendants have flouted it.
“The IMLT will continue to work with the council and the police to bring illegal money lenders to justice.”
An estimated 310,000 households nationwide are borrowing from illegal money lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates to trap people in a spiral of debt.
Frank Jordan, Executive Director of the Cheshire East Council, said: âWe will not tolerate unauthorized money lenders operating in our borough.
âOur Trading Standards team works closely with England’s Illegal Money Lending team to take action against unregulated activity and will respond to every report made by residents.
âIllegal money lending is a serious offense and can cause real hardship for individuals and their families already facing financial pressures. ”
Nationally, illegal money lending teams have obtained more than 380 lawsuits for illegal money lending and related activities, resulting in nearly 330 years in jail.
They wrote off Â£ 73.7million in illegal debt and helped over 28,000 people.
A schedule of proceeds of crime has now been established to recover ill-gotten gains.