A conman has been jailed after he was involved in a “planned, complicated, sophisticated and systematic” £100,000 fraud against a Chester woman.
Ajibola Daudu, 43, of Banner Close, Purfleet, Essex, pleaded guilty on the day of his Chester Crown Court trial to one count of fraud against Lynn Hawes from October, 2015 to September, 2016.
In total Mrs Hawes was conned out of £100,000 but a basis of plea which was put forward by Daudu, and accepted by the prosecution, said he had only received cash not exceeding £26,000 and that he was not aware of bank transfers which were made before October, 2015.
Anna Price, prosecuting, told the court that in February, 2015 Mrs Hawes joined a dating site, Plenty of Fish. On the first day of her joining a man called John Wilmotts began speaking to her.
Ms Price said the pair began messaging each other regularly and they met twice in March. ‘John’ said his children and their mother lived in Wirral and he was an intelligence agent.
Ms Price said after March the relationship became long distance due to ‘John’s’ job.
’John’ then explained to Mrs Hawes that his father had died in Dubai but he was struggling to make the necessary arrangements to get a £7million inheritance left to him.
Ms Price said it was at this point Mrs Hawes offered to help by paying £1,500 and £1,200 to “cover the wages of stand-in employees so that he [‘John’] could travel to Dubai”.
Ms Price said Mrs Hawes now believed that this was a way of “testing willingness to hand over money”.
In June 2015 Mrs Hawes travelled to Dubai on ‘John’s’ behalf and met a man called ‘Phillip’.
Ms Price said that while Mrs Hawes was there everything was paid for and she was shown a suitcase with a large amount of cash – supposedly £7 million.
Mrs Hawes was given an anti-money laundering certificate in relation to the money which then disappeared. She was told it would cost £10,000 to replace. Believing she would be paid back when ‘John’ received the inheritance, she paid for the replacement certificate.
Ms Price said on her return to England she paid over further large sums for more certificates to ‘Phillip’.
In October 2015 Ms Hawes received a phone call from someone called ‘Doug Benjamin’. He said he was head of security and ‘John’s’ agent and he had been asked by ‘Phillip’ to take over for him.
‘Doug’ was Daudu.
‘Doug’ told Ms Hawes he had spent time in the embassy working with the United Nations, had worked undercover and had dealings with the IRA. ‘Doug’ and Ms Hawes met on a number of occasions in London – sometimes to hand over money, sometimes to spend time together.
Ms Price said at the end of 2015 their relationship became “intimate”. Ms Hawes was then told by ‘Doug’ that he had also lent money to ‘John’ to try to get the inheritance back and was struggling financially.
Ms Price said Ms Hawes had started to borrow money off family and friends to pay ‘John’ as she believed he needed the cash to get the money through customs.
In February 2016 she met ‘Doug’ at the Crowne Plaza hotel in London and a case of money was brought to the hotel room by a security guard.
Mrs Hawes was given a code to open the case and it appeared to be full of cash, this time US dollars.
There was a conversation between ‘Doug’ and the security guard over the fact it was meant to be British currency and the security guard asked for a “conversion certificate”.
Mrs Hawes was told it would cost £350,000 and they would not be allowed to touch the money until they had it.
Ms Price said that at this point ‘Doug’ said that there was a cheaper way of getting the certificate but there was a “sense of urgency”.
Mrs Hawes sold some jewellery and borrowed £10,000 off a friend and handed over £12,000 in cash to ‘Doug’ at a hotel in London in June 2016.
Ms Price said that later that month ‘Doug’ said the Brexit vote had an impact on the availability of the certificate and Ms Hawes handed over a further £9,000 on July 5.
To do this she took out a bank loan of £15,000 and gave £9,000 to ‘Doug’ and £6,000 back to her friend.
After July 5 she became suspicious. Police had visited her on July 4 after Mrs Hawes family had called the police believing that she was being conned.
Ms Price said that Mrs Hawes reaction initially was that police were wrong. After July 5 she contacted the police who told her to keep in touch with ‘Doug’ until another meeting could be arranged.
On September 22 ‘Doug’ asked for a further £27,500 for the conversion certificate and arranged a meeting in London. Police then arrested Daudu. Neither ‘John’ or ‘Phillip’ have been found by police.
Ms Price said Daudu refused to be interviewed by police. She said Mrs Hawes had been “completely convinced by them”, “swept off her feet” and “she believed she and ‘John’ were going to have a lasting relationship”.
Mrs Hawes bravely, read her own victim impact statement to the court and said her search for companionship had been “exposed in the most cruel manner”.
She said: “They made me feel so special and so loved. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with John when this started.
“I can’t believe this has happened to me. It all sounds so unbelievable.”
She said they were the actions of “evil people” and she was being “gamed” and was “totally embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed”. She told the court she had sex with Daudu three times and felt “totally betrayed”, and added: “I didn’t think anyone could stoop so low.”
She said she had been left with large debts both to her friends and family and to the bank which she would be paying “long after he is out of prison”.
Jide Lanlehin, defending, said Daudu wanted to apologise to Mrs Hawes.
Mr Lanlehin said Daudu had “become very close” to Mrs Hawes and he “wished he had the courage at an earlier stage to tell her finally about what was going on”.
Mr Lanlehin said Daudu had three children with an ex-partner who he regularly saw and had a law degree.
At this point Daudu, who had spent the entire hearing with his head in his hands, shouted to the court “I deserve to lose everything for what I did to her” and started sobbing loudly.
Jailing him for a total of 45 months, Judge Nicolas Woodward said Daudu had been involved in a “planned, complicated, sophisticated and systematic” fraud. He described the offence as a “deliberate and shameless betrayal”.
Speaking outside the court Mrs Hawes said she was “pleased” with the sentence.
She said she did not believe Daudu was remorseful, adding “I’ve seen those tears before. He can put on an act. He has no remorse in my eyes.”
She said: “It was just like a movie. There were at least six to seven people. They had everything, all the props. I felt it was 100 per cent genuine.”