Judge Rules on Pinay 5/6 Crook in British Court Confiscation Of Assets Hearing
A Filipina living in Godalming, Surrey, faced a British judge Friday who ordered her to pay £18,000 to the courts or go to jail for 11 months as a default penalty.
Recorder Steven Kay QC sitting in court 4 at Surrey's Guildford Crown Court (above) told Rowena Santos, who operated as a loan shark in her local area, that under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 she has until 28 December this year to pay the full amount or she will be jailed.
She had been sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, following a hearing at Guildford Crown Court back in January of this year.
Loan shark Santos has been ordered to pay back all of her available assets to the courts, following a financial investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
Rowena Santos, 43 of Pondfield Road, Godalming, had assets amounting to £18,000, she must pay back this amount within six months or face eleven months in prison.
Santos was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working in partnership with Surrey County Council Trading Standards.
She previously pleaded guilty to four offences of illegal money lending and in January year was sentenced to a six month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, plus a 180 hour community service order.
At today’s hearing, Ben Mills on behalf of the prosecution, told Guildford Crown Court how Santos made a total of £40,291 lending to 18 ‘customers’ within the local Filipino community.
Rowena Santos, 43 previously pleaded guilty to four counts of illegal money lending between March 2006 and October 2010, when she was arrested.
Santos was arrested after the England Illegal Money Lending Team who work in partnership with Surrey County Council Trading Standards executed a warrant at her home on Pondfield Road in Godalming.
She handed officers documentation related to the illegal business, and made full admissions in interviews to lending to at least 18 ‘customers’ within the Filipino community. Santos told officers that she knew she needed a licence but was ‘irresponsible’.
On behalf of the prosecution Ben Mills told the court how Santos operated using a practice known as ‘renting the loan’. Borrowers would take out loans of varying amounts, and pay back 5% interest at regular monthly intervals.
However these payments never reduced the amount and they would continue paying interest until they paid the original loan in one lump sum.
One victim borrowed £5000 from Santos and set up a standing order into her bank account. She paid £600 as the first payment, then £250 each month. When she began to struggle Santos, offered her a second loan and her payments increased, soon she found herself in a situation where she was paying £1000 each month.
The victim said she felt ‘harassed and intimidated’ by Santos after she turned up at her work shouting at her, insulting her and demanding payment in front of her colleagues. At the point when Santos was arrested the woman had paid back about £9000 without ever clearing any of the original loan.
Santos lent to those who were unable to get credit from legitimate sources because of their personal, social or financial situation. Most of her borrowers were originally friends or ‘friends of friends’.
She would draw up a handwritten agreement which lacked the formalities and customer safeguards which would have been included in a legal consumer credit agreement. Borrowers would rarely be given a copy of this.
A financial investigation was thus set up to determine how much Santos made illegally with a view to confiscating this.
Consumer Affairs Minister Edward Davey said: "Loan sharks are real criminals who cause misery for people - those who they 'help' can be harassed for years. But the victims are often not aware of genuine credit options available to them, such as credit unions, which can transform their lives immeasurably.
"The Illegal Money Lending Teams have been incredibly effective delivering community support on the ground, as well as providing advice and support for victims. But the Team have also been effective at arresting and prosecuting people, resulting in prison sentences, and today's outcome should serve as a warning to others."
Kay Hammond, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “Preying on vulnerable people who are short of money during these tough financial times is despicable. The victims in this case found themselves in a spiral of debt because of the repellent actions of a loan shark motivated by pure greed. Even if money is tight, turning to illegal money lenders is not worth the risk. They’ll make a difficult situation even worse.”
Training sessions will be held by the England Illegal Money Lending Team for frontline professionals at Surrey County Council, local housing providers, children’s centres and the police.
The sessions will cover what a loan shark is, the ways in which they operate and how they can be reported. It is hoped that the sessions will enable the staff to support and signpost anyone they meet in their day to day work who has been the victim of a loan shark.
Posters and banners will also be displayed throughout the community warning people of the dangers and encouraging anyone with information on illegal money lending activity to report the crime,
Tony Quigley Head of the Illegal Money Lending Team said “Loan sharks like Rowena Santos are motivated purely by greed. They may appear to be doing you a favour, but in reality they are trapping their borrowers into an ever increasing spiral of debt, whilst making a considerable profit for themselves. We are cracking down on these criminals and would urge people to avoid illegal money lenders at all costs. If you are the victim of an illegal money lender, we would encourage you to contact us in confidence on 0300 555 2222 as we can help”
Nationally the Illegal Money Lending Team’s have secured over 200 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 128 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off almost £40 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 18,000 victims.