A STAFFORD woman has been jailed for two years for her part in a sophisticated tax fraud worth more than £8 million.
Helga Lowndes, 48, of Weeping Cross, Stafford, denied VAT fraud and conspiracy to contravene the Finance Act 2000.
The scam was pulled off by a gang of 20 from Staffordshire, West Midlands and Manchester who have been jailed for almost 90 years collectively.
The 17 men and three women were arrested by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers during an investigation that revealed tax offences and money laundering linked to the construction industry over a two-year period.
Investigators uncovered a large and complex web of illegal activity involving more than 100 businesses. Subcontractors were employed off-record and the gang members pocketed income tax and national insurance contributions due to be paid to HMRC.
Fake invoices, supposedly for providing labour, had also been created to claim VAT refunds to which the gang were not entitled.
HMRC investigators carried searched more than 40 residential and business premises across the UK in September 2009. They seized paperwork, computers, class A drugs and almost £170,000 in cash from 11 business properties in the West Midlands and Manchester. Smaller quantities of US dollars and Euros were also discovered.
Lowndes was sentenced in December but reporting were lifted following three separate trials at Birmingham Crown Court, the last of which ended last Wednesday (30).
Colin Booker, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “(The) final sentencing brings to an end a six-year investigation, centred on a highly organised and complex fraud, undertaken by a group of individuals who cared for nothing but their own financial gain.
“HMRC is investing more time and resources than ever into identifying fraud. Our work does not stop at sentencing, but at depriving those involved of the proceeds of their crimes. Confiscation action will follow, as we attempt to recoup some of the £8 million the gang so shamelessly stole from the taxpayer.”