Junk mail fraudster jailed - Bedford

26/04/2013

Junk mail fraudster Hendrick Meniru was today, Friday, 26 April 2013, jailed for three years for being involved in lucrative worldwide mail scams.

His victims were persuaded to send in 40 dollars for a "Certificate of Blessing" from a "Personal Wealth Talisman." Others, who thought they had won a £7,500 prize, handed over £11.99, only to receive a packet of digestive biscuits.

Luton Crown Court heard that elderly and vulnerable people in this country and abroad were persuaded to part with cash in return for supernatural help or the chance of winning large sums of money.

Judge Stuart Bridge told Meniru: "These were blatant attempts to extort money from naive customers. Those preyed on were vulnerable, gullible and financially compromised."

He said one scam was so successful that those targeted sent more than £200,000 in the first few weeks of the promotion for a key to a "unique" box that did not exist. But he said Meniru was not the organiser or prime mover, but a "willing participant."

The 48-year-old, from Devon Road, Bedford, was found guilty by a jury earlier this month and of two charges of unfair trading, two charges of fraud, and one of failing to comply with money laundering regulations.

The jury failed to reach verdicts on six other charges and Meniru was cleared on the Judge's directions of two other charges.

At the start of the trial, which began in February, Mr Barry told the jury: "Much of his (Meniru's) business was wholly legitimate, but part of the business was not legitimate. It was designed to persuade consumers, usually the vulnerable and/or elderly, to part with their money."

He said his scams all misrepresented the truth and persuaded the consumer to part with cash. Mail was sent to people in the United States on behalf of a Canadian company called GGM. One letter claimed a 22,600 dollar prize was guaranteed. The customer had to fill in a receipt indicating where the prize was to be sent. "Needless to say there was a cost of 9 dollars," said Mr Barry.

A second letter guaranteed 33,900 dollars. In that case the victims had to send in 20 dollars. Mr Barry said the flyers, which he said were printed by Meniru, were designed to give the fake impression that the person receiving the letter had won a lot of money.

A letter from a company called Delices and Gourmandises read: "Personal letter to be delivered without fail to the Grand Winner of the £7,500 prize. Response required." The terms of the prize actually referred to the person being placed in a random sweepstake after an order had been placed for the expensive digestive biscuits at £11.99.

Another letter involved a Personal Wealth Talisman called Li Pau, who Mr Barry said, does not exist. The victims were told to place their left hand on a piece of paper. The instructions went on: "Close your eyes and concentrate on how much personal wealth you wish to align with yourself through the power of astrological patterns. Keep your left hand in place for at least 15 to 20 seconds. This will allow for an intense passage of energy to pass between us, an energy of planetary and star forces which will enable me to pick up on subtle nuances and crystallize my abilities of vision and insight which I will then transfer to your personal wealth talisman." They were then told to fold the paper and return it to receive a Certificate of Blessing for 40 dollars.

Mr Barry said: "You may well think to yourselves that you would not be fooled by such nonsense. Such documents would just be fun if credulous and elderly people had not fallen for them." But he said one victim Kathleen Slusser, aged 51 and from the United States, had replied saying she had just filed for bankruptcy and was in dire straits saying any help would be most appreciated. The victims were vulnerable by virtue of their age, mental infirmity or credulity, said Mr Barry.

Another firm called Smith-Lyons sent letters in French and English with a key for a unique box, with a supposedly unique number of 1008. But Mr Barry said the trouble was the same letter was sent to an awful lot of people with the same unique box. There was a processing fee of 128 dollars or about 82 pounds. It read: "The contents of this box are unknown, although boxes of this type generally are used to harbour bearer bonds, jewellery, precious stones and artefacts."

When trading standards raided his offices in Kimbolton Road, Bedford on 25 November 2010, they found letters of complaint, mainly from the USA and France, from people who had not received their box.

Mr Barry said: "The prosecution do not know who invented all of these schemes. Indeed there is some evidence Mr Meniru often simply acted as an agent to cash the cheques and pay the organisers. He was acting as part of a joint enterprise. He knew the effect of the schemes since there were a very large number of complaints from elderly victims."

In the witness box Meniru told the jury he had no idea about the schemes that were involved and said he was "horrified" when he learned of the sweepstake schemes. Meniru will be the subject of a confiscation hearing at a later date. Mr Barry said: "The costs of this case have been very substantial, in excess of £100,000 and nearer to £200,000 if the investigators' costs are included."

Christopher Coltart, defending, said Meniru had arrived in the UK from war torn Nigeria and had "pulled himself up by his bootstraps."

"He is fundamentally a decent man who has done extensive charitable work. But on the jury's verdict, he did lose his way for a relatively short period of time.

"He has suffered financially already and will not be able to continue in business."

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