Farmers left with almost no savings after gang targeted victims in €546k swindle
AN IRISHMAN has been jailed for 20 months in the UK for his part in a massive £500,000 (€546,000) scam targeting farmers across the country.
Jimmy Connors (44) had used his legitimate business to target victims for the four-man gang who swindled huge sums of money.
Branded a "thoroughly dishonest" businessman by a trial judge this week Connors pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud.
He had run a business importing machinery from Ireland and sold on to farms in west Wales. But he used his contacts to target two brothers and a retired farmer in the scam.
He told all three that a lorry containing a new quad bike and other machinery had been impounded on its way from Ireland by customs at Pembroke docks.
He told them he needed cash to get it released and then got friends to con them out of even more money by saying he had been arrested and needed to be bailed.
Brothers Peter and Stephen Weeks, who run a sheep farm in Wales, were left with almost no savings and struggling to buy fertiliser and other supplies after being conned out of £37,000 (€40,000).
His family firm had been doing business with them for 30 years and Connors was trusted as a friend.
He took over the business and turned up in November last year telling the Weeks a story about his lorry being impounded because it had red diesel in its tank.
He first asked to borrow £5,000 (€5,460) to get it released and promised to repay the money as soon as it was.
The next day other members of the gang turned up and told the brothers Connors had been arrested.
They swindled another £32,000 (€34,950) before they became suspicious, began recording phone calls and visits and contacted the police.
Retired farmer Spencer Edwards was also swindled out of £4,000 (€4,370) by the same scam but asked for advice from his bank when the gang asked for more, resulting in the police being alerted.
After he was arrested, Connors told police he needed the money to pay for his sister's wedding back in Ireland.
Connors' cousin Luke Connors (30) from Wexford, John Maughan (56) and Dennis McGinley (57) have also admitted their roles and will be sentenced in January next year.
The judge told Connors: "Peter and Stephen Weeks had done business with you and your parents for 30 years and trusted you as a friend. They have a modest sheep farm which was viable and they were keeping their heads above water.
"You were an essential part of the conspiracy because you were trusted by them and were able to get your foot in the door and spin the yarn about the lorry.
"You knew this was a thoroughly dishonest enterprise from the outset.
"Later the same day you went to visit an elderly, retired man in his 70s and the same scam was effective because he saw you as a trusted friend."
Victim impact statements from the brothers said they had lost most of the farm's savings and were worried about how they would pay for vet's bills, fertiliser, and equipment in the future.
Connors' defence lawyer said he played a small part in a wider conspiracy and that his victims had not been forced out of business, into debt, or had their credit rating affected.
The other members of the gang went on to target others, who paid much larger sums.
McGinley has admitted being the leader of the group and to conspiracies totalling more than £500,000 involving multiple victims - but he disputes how much was taken.
His sentence has been adjourned until a fact-finding hearing in January.
He claims some of the money was paid in genuine business transactions but the prosecution say everything he was paid was fraudulent.
The total amount cannot be calculated exactly because most of the money was paid to McGinley and henchmen John Maughan, Luke Connors and Jimmy Connors in cash.
Under sentencing guidelines, McGinley is facing a likely term of seven years, less credit for his guilty plea.
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