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Jobless Widnes loan shark preyed on low income victims
A WIDNES loan shark has been given a prison sentence suspended for two years for illegal money lending, drugs offences and failing to control his Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Jobless benefit claimant Stephen Wharton, aged 30, of Wavertree Avenue, was sentenced at Chester Crown Court on Friday.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal money lending, and four offences in relation to the possession of £40,000 worth of steroids with intent to supply.
He was sentenced to eight months custody for illegal money lending and drugs offences, and three months custody for having failed to control his dog which attacked another dog and bit its owner.
He was ordered to complete 120 hours unpaid work.
The investigation and prosecution was led by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working with Halton Borough Council and Cheshire Constabulary.
Wharton was involved in PSI Finance Ltd, an unlicensed and illegal business, between September 2010 and April 2012.
Paperwork at his home revealed at least 221 loans were given during this time. A typical loan for £100 cost £140.
Joseph Millington, prosecuting, told the court how Wharton and his mother targeted people on low incomes, and unable to access credit from mainstream sources. He provided little paperwork to borrowers, so it was difficult to keep track of loans. The pair never advertised the business and attracted new customers via word of mouth.
Wharton’s 58-year-old mother was sentenced at an earlier hearing a year ago after pleading guilty. She was fined and ordered to pay costs.
Halton Clr Stef Nelson, board member for consumer protection, said: "Illegal money lending destroys communities just as it has destroyed its victims' lives. We welcome this prosecution and would encourage anyone with any information about similar operations to contact the Illegal Money Lending Team."
Sgt Karen Jaundrill, from Cheshire Police’s Financial Investigation Unit, said: "Cheshire Police continues to work in close partnership with the Illegal Money Lending Team to target loan sharks who are preying on some of the most vulnerable people within our community. The successful prosecution of Wharton illustrates how effective this partnership is and highlights our continuous commitment to eradicating illegal money lenders from operating within our local communities.
“It also highlights the fact that in many cases of illegal money lending that we investigate alongside the Illegal Money Lending Team we find other evidence of criminality – in this case a substantial amount of illegal drugs, which were discovered inside the property. We are committed to tackling all of the issues surrounding illegal money lending and are committed to ensuring that those who choose to behave in this way and cause issues within the local community are dealt with and positive action is taken.”
Tony Quigley, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “Loan sharks may appear to be offering a community service, but they are exploiting the vulnerable for their own greed. Even if a company appears to be legitimate, it’s important to check that they are operating legally. We are continuing to crack down on this crime, as this successful prosecution shows.”
Anyone who has been the victim of a loan shark can call the confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 at any time 24/7.
Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured 287 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading more than 171 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £40.3 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 22,000 victims.
To report a loan shark, call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222, text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or private message www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject