Bullying fraudster exposed by BBC's Watchdog pocketed cash and moved to Spain
A self-styled debt guru has been jailed for bullying desperate customers into remortgaging their homes and pocketing the money.
Matt James flew off to live the high-life at his home in Spain while his victims found themselves even deeper in debt and had their homes repossessed.
One suffered a heart attack, others were forced into bankruptcy and all spent years being harassed by debt collectors who should have been paid off with the money they gave to James.
He went on the run after his crooked Debt Advisory Company was exposed by BBC’s Watchdog programme and his credit licence was withdrawn by the Office of Fair Trading.
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He fled to Spain and escaped justice until he was found living in a Travel Lodge with his family after secretly coming back to Britain.
James ran a series of companies with similar names which lured desperately indebted customer through adverts on the internet and in Yellow Pages and fleeced them out of £185,000.
He offered to negotiate on behalf of clients to reduce their repayments so they could remortgage their homes, release the equity, and clear their liabilities.
Instead he simply transferred the cash into his own account where he used it to start a new life for himself in Spain, Exeter Crown Court was told.
He ran his business from a PO box address in Ottery St Mary, Devon, in his proper name of Matthew St John Crossley but moved to Alcester, Worcestershire, and then to Essex and used the aliases of Matthew Prevett and Matt James as investigators closed in.
He was finally tracked down after a seven year investigation led by the Devon and Cornwall Police.
James, aged 40, of Rectory Road, Sible Hedingham, near Chelmsford, admitted one offence of fraud and five of obtaining property by deception between March 1, 2006 and September 13, 2008.
He was jailed for three years by Judge Phillip Wassall, who told him:”You were running a company providing a service for people who were seriously in debt.
“You were canvassing business from vulnerable people who came to you looking for a solution out of their debt crisis. What they got was the opposite.
“They trusted you personally. You knew their situation but you preyed on their vulnerability. It is that gross breach of trust that makes this case so serious.”
Mr Lee Bremridge, prosecuting, said James fleeced six customers out of a total of £185,493.40 after they approached his Debt Advisory Service for help in fending off creditors.
He paid off £16,000 of the debts of the first victim Andrew Lloyd but kept the rest of the £53,000 he raised by remortgaging his home in Bristol.
Mr Bremridge said:”He tried to get his money back without success and called the police. As a result of this case he had to file for bankruptcy and his house was repossessed. He suffered a great deal of stress and had a heart attack.”
Other victims were Thomas Marcombe, of Plymouth, who lost £35,000;Jeremy Carter, from Sussex, who lost £17,500; Colin Haynes from Portsmouth, who lost £51,000, and has since moved to Canada; Nigel Bate, from Cheshire, who lost £16,000 and Jennifer Blackman, from Bromley, Kent, who lost £28,500.
Mr Bremridge said:”Mr Lloyd was the only one of these customers in respect of whom he paid any money to creditors. All the customers described his fees and charges as being sky high.
“After he received the money, he set about using it fraudulently and it is clear from his bank accounts it was spent on shopping shortly after being paid in.
“These were not vulnerable victims in the normal sense but they were vulnerable by virtue of their financial circumstances, which is why they contacted his company.”
“He went to live in Spain and was investigated by the Watchdog programme and his consumer credit licence was revoked in June 2008 because they considered him to be deceitful, oppressive, unfair or improper.
“The Revenue and Customs have checked their files and have no record of him having been employed or paying tax.”
Miss Katherine Kelleher, defending, said James had not changed his name to escape his customers but because it is easier to use than his original identity.
She blamed his former wife Fiona Prevett for pressurizing him for cash to fund their new life in Spain and said his chances of rebuilding his business were ruined after he appeared on the Watchdog programme.