A RUGELEY former company director has been jailed for four years after he and his wife “bought” the debts of hundreds of vulnerable people in a sophisticated scam involving £1.8 million.
For fees ranging from £250 to £450, Basil Rankine, 46, and his wife Amanda, 36, of Somerset Avenue, Rugeley, made consumers believe their debts would be cleared on technicality.
But hundreds of the 2,500 “customers” complained they still found themselves in debt after losing their payments.
Birmingham Crown Court, where the couple faced sentence for 14 charges of fraud and unfair business practices, was told that their MNL company, also known as “Credit Card Killer”, had been featured on the BBC’s Panorama programme.
Basil Rankine was regarded by some people as having a secret formula in dealing with the debts, it was said, but judge David Tomlinson described the fraud as a sophisticated scam and a “hopeless product”.
Some consumers paid their fees for the alleged debt free service with the very credit cards that had got them into debt in the first place, the court was told.
Basil Rankine had carried on with the “cynical and dishonest” scheme despite an injunction and served a prison sentence at one stage as a result.
Birmingham Council’s trading standards department had also been involved in taking action against the couple, who have two children, it was said.
The couple, who were both directors of the company, advertised their business on the website and emplyed other people.
They were found guilty by a jury at a previous hearing for the offences in 2009 and 2010.
Basil Rankine told judge Tomlinson in mitigation at the latest hearing that there had been no total disregard for the law and that some people found the scheme beneficial.
“The company did not try to hide anything - everything was recorded,” he said. “It was two years since the last sale.”
He complained there had been inaccuracies in a probation officer’s pre-trial report.
Philip Bown, representing Amanda Rankine, described her husband as “the expert” and said his wife had been of impeccable character but caught in a 22 Catch situation.
“She was subordinate to her husband - he was the dominant and driving force,” said Mr Bown.
“She received £42,000 a year and paid income tax. She was made bankrupt in 2010.”
Judge Tomlinson said that 20 witnesses had given evidence at the previous hearing with two of them breaking down in tears over their treatment.
He said some money was paid back to the victims but it was the vulnerable members of the community who suffered damage.
“Consumers believed they were going to be debt free but they seldom received responses to their telephone calls of complaint and little was done for them,” said the judge. “There was no secret formula.”
Judge Tomlinson sentenced Basil Rankine to four years and his wife to 12 months’ prison, suspended for 18 months.
He said they would be banned from being directors of a company for seven years.
Judge Tomlinson told Basil Rankine that he would have to provide information under the Proceeds of Crime Act.