Two more people have been jailed for their role in a Medway money laundering operation that received cash from the victims of online scams worldwide.
A total of more than £510,000 was sent and received via the Latom “O” Store mini-market in Batchelor Street, Chatham, between August and December 2014.
The shop had been registered as a money service business (MSB) for the purpose of exchanging currency, cashing cheques and sending funds abroad, but was instead being used to help trick people into giving up their savings.
Now two of those involved – Laide Seriki, 46, of Dale Street, Chatham, and Kwame Bryan, 48, of Rowan Road, south-west London – have been jailed following an investigation by detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.
Seriki received a custodial sentence of four years and one month after pleading guilty to money laundering offences while Bryan will spend the next five years and nine months in prison after being convicted following a trial at Maidstone Crown Court.
Both were also issued with five-year Serious Crime Prevention Orders, meaning they will be subject to a number of conditions designed to prevent them from re-offending following their release from prison.
Seriki and Bryan were both previously wanted by police for failing to appear at court following their initial arrests in 2015. In their absence a third member of the operation, a 33-year-old man from Crawley, West Sussex, was jailed for four years and nine months in July 2018 after pleading guilty to two counts of money laundering.
Kent Police became aware of the scam in early 2015 when concerns were raised about the unusually high amounts of money going into and out of Latom “O” Store, which was run by Seriki and had made payments of £259,541 between August and December 2014 and received £251,013.
When detectives carried out enquiries into the identities of the people who had allegedly received money via the business, they found that false driving licences, passport numbers, addresses and names had been provided.
Letters were sent to 49 people who had transferred money to the business to ask them why they had done so, which prompted 22 responses from victims of online scams from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Among them were people who had been tricked into believing they were responding to a friend in need, sending cash to somebody they had fallen in love with, or paying for lottery winnings to be delivered to them.
Further analysis of the cash transactions revealed that the money was being sent away from the business from computer addresses in Crawley, where the third member of the group lived.
Both he and Bryan were arrested on Tuesday 20 October 2015, after which point it was established that Bryan had been receiving monthly payments from the man and had been responsible for introducing him to Seriki.
The investigation also focused on a larger criminal operation run by the third member from the Sleep Depot in Broadwalk, Crawley, which closed in March 2014 and which had also been proven to have been involved in money laundering to the tune of more than £750,000.
Detective Inspector James Derham of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: ‘Laide Seriki and Kwame Bryan played a key role in this money laundering operation, linking them to callous scams affecting victims from around the world. Many of these had fallen in love with fictitious people before being tricked into paying them thousands of pounds.
‘Both attempted to run away from their crimes but I am pleased the Court has recognised the seriousness of their offending with these custodial sentences.
‘It is important to never send money to someone online you have never met, and always think twice about posting personal information online which could be used to manipulate or bribe you.
‘This fraud can be defeated by spreading public awareness and encouraging friends and family to always check the legitimacy of a stranger who has contacted them online.
‘If you believe you are a victim of this fraud or know someone who is, please visit Action Fraud online or call 0300 123 2040. You can also report money laundering offences to us by calling 101 or visiting www.kent.police.uk/report.’