A LOAN shark who begged a judge not to send him to prison because his rates were better than payday lender Wonga has been jailed after admitting laundering £235,000.
Thomas Kiely, a Manchester man from an Irish Traveller family, received a 26-month sentence last week.
Over the course of seven years, the 57-year-old kept the proceeds of his illegal money lending business while he and his wife claimed £60,000 in state benefits.
The absence of true records made it difficult to get an accurate estimate of Kiely’s ill-gotten gains, a judge told Manchester Crown Court.
But a handwritten notebook provided an eye-opening insight into the scale of his operation.
It detailed how 25 people racked up £107,000 worth of repayments, outstanding debts and late payment fees over just seven months.
The court heard that his many customers paid between 50 and 100 per cent interest on loans and faced penalties for late repayment.
But Kiely insisted that he was providing a service to people in such dire straits that they could only borrow money from payday lenders like Wonga.
Kiely’s lawyer told the jury that he gave the large number of people with debt history a chance to escape the “utterly exorbitant” rates of lending firms.
The court also heard that the former labourer came from an Irish Traveller family who ‘kept their wealth in gold’ and that he sold inherited jewellery to fund his loans.
Yet Judge David Hernandez said members of public would be “entitled to a degree of revulsion” at Kiely’s crimes after details emerged of how his underworld business enabled him to live a life of luxury.
Despite being jobless, living in rented accommodation and receiving benefits, he and his wife, Caroline Lewis, owned four vehicles, valued at over £60,000.
They also spent almost £14,000 on expensive getaways in a 21-month period from August 2010, visiting Thailand, Egypt, Majorca and Alicante.
Between November 2005 and August 2012, they spent more than £150,000 in cash.
Investigators also found bundles of banknotes stashed in every room of their flat.
Kiely was jailed for a total of 26 months after pleading guilty to illegal money lending, money laundering, two counts of benefit fraud and dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances knowing it would affect entitlement to benefit.
Lewis, 47, was handed down a 10-month sentence after admitting four counts of benefit fraud and money laundering.
The pair, both of Monsall Street, Harpurhey, laundered £235,000 in total between 2006 and last year.
Their jailing came after a joint operation between England’s Illegal Money Lending Team, Manchester City Council, the Department of Work and Pensions and Greater Manchester Police.
Upon sentencing, Judge Hernandez said Kiely’s money lending business was unsophisticated and grew from small beginnings, but had involved “significant planning to maintain it with a high level of expenditure over significant period of time”.
“The absence of true records shows how difficult it is to get a true figure,” he added.
“The hard working members of public are entitled to a degree of revulsion at these crimes that have allowed you to live beyond means.”
Defending Lewis, Mark Monaghan claimed Kiely’s lowest rate worked out at a 200 per cent APR over a three-month repayment period.
“If you can find a payday lender like Wonga with an APR under four figures I will not quite eat my wig, but I will be impressed,” he added.