Homeworker Rita Hunter has been jailed for not repaying the tens of thousands of pounds she defrauded from The Advantage Travel Partnership.
Hunter, 63, who ran Hunters Travel in Liverpool, was ordered to pay £33,000 to the consortium and handed an 18-month suspended sentence in 2016.
She had admitted using former customers’ credit and debit card details to pay for new bookings through the consortium while directing money to her own accounts.
On Wednesday April 18 2018, Hunter, of of Sankey Street, Liverpool city centre, was sentenced to six months in prison at South Sefton Magistrates Court for culpable negligence after paying back only £250 of the compensation amount.
Hunter will not now have to pay the £33,000.
When asked in court by District Judge Jack McGarva why she had only managed the small sum she told the court how she had “lost everything” including her home and marriage.
In evidence Hunter, who split from her husband in July, said she had believed that after the sale of the couple’s house to a bankruptcy company, she would be able to pay the order with the £124,000 equity. However, instead she claims she was made to pay fees in excess of £80,000 to the bankruptcy company.
Hunter, who now works at the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, said: “I’ve found myself in a hard situation.
“I’ve always worked – I built a business up from nothing.
“I’ve lost everything. I’ve no home, no money. I’ve finally got a job and I’ve worked hard to get it. And I want to pay back whatever I can.”
When asked by Judge McGarva how much she could pay back a month, she said: “£50 this month and then after that £80 a month.”
Asad Khan, representing Hunter, said: “She is trying her best to get back on her feet.
“She has had to start her life over again, without her husband and without any assets.
“She has offered to pay £80 a month, which pretty much leaves her with nothing, but she is determined to make a start at paying what she owes.”
He added: “Her hope is to continue to work and increase her hours and she has even spoken about getting a second job.
“She went on extra courses to improve her CV and increase her attractiveness to employers.
“She is desperate to pay this off and I would ask you don’t send her to custody today sir.”
However, Judge McGarva said he believed Hunter had “spun a yarn” to the court and constantly delayed paying the order.
Sentencing her, he said: “We gave you 12 months to pay – £250 has been paid. During that time you have received benefits and have been working and not made any payments.
“You gave evidence on oath that you believed the compensation could be paid by the sale of your house – that has not come to fruition.
“You made an offer to pay £50 and then £80 after that – it would take beyond your lifetime to collect the debt on that basis.
“I am of the opinion that you have spun a yarn and you have been constantly delaying payment.”
Speaking after the case, Julia Lo Bue-Said, managing director of Advantage, said: “We are very pleased to learn Rita Hunter has now been imprisoned following her failure to pay a Criminal Compensation Order handed down by the criminal courts.
“The matter concerning Rita Hunter has been ongoing for a number of years and we now feel that justice has prevailed, not only for ourselves but for the customers affected by Rita’s actions.
“We hope the outcome of this case will act as a deterrent for others.”
Advantage first noticed irregularities within six weeks of Hunter joining the consortium in October 2014 when it started to receive chargebacks from merchant acquirers.
It terminated Hunter’s membership and, with law firm Hill Dickinson, began a civil claim against her to recover its losses and reported her to police.
The civil case lasted 18 months, culminating in bankruptcy proceedings.
Hunter was arrested in September 2015 and, following an investigation by Merseyside Police, charged with two counts of dishonestly making false representation relating to both Advantage and another travel company.
Hunter pleaded guilty to the charges at Liverpool Crown Court on August 16 2016.
Many of the customers whose details she used were able to claim back losses from card providers, but Advantage was obliged to honour the bookings.