A landscape gardener who ripped off elderly and vulnerable residents by overcharging for shoddy work has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.
Benjamin Brown, 62, was stopped in his tracks by Surrey County Council’s trading standards officers and pleaded guilty in June to fraud and money laundering offences relating to sums up to £665,000.
He was jailed at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday 20 October and will also face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing to recover money he conned from his victims.
Brown, of Cox Lane, Epsom, traded under the names Greenfingers Gardening and Homecare Property Maintenance, offering services such as landscape gardening, paving and fencing.
Many of his victims were elderly and vulnerable and unable to look after their gardens themselves.
Brown advertised in local newspapers including the Epsom Guardian, in parish magazines and by posting adverts through doors but would charge exorbitant prices for poor quality work. Customers complained that queries about price or the standard of work led to threats, verbal abuse and aggression.
In one case, a woman in her 90s approached Brown after seeing a newspaper advert because she needed help maintaining her garden. Brown started work at her home without giving her any notice of her cancellation rights and charged her £24,500. A surveyor later judged the value of the work to be only £400.
In another case, Brown charged a man £17,000 for works carried out at his home, again after failing to give notice of cancellation rights. A surveyor valued the work at £200.
A third victim paid £7,000 for work carried out in his garden. Brown returned on a number of occasions without prior arrangement and started work not requested by the customer, who felt too intimidated not to pay. He paid Brown £1,500 simply for tidying his garden.
Brown’s victims were mainly in Surrey, with some also living in Sutton, Wallington, Richmond and Twickenham. His offences were carried out over a seven-year period from 2006 to 2013.
The court accepted that Brown had some satisfied customers and that some of his income was legitimate. Ethu Crorie, prosecuting, informed the court that Brown had no price structure and his fees varied with what he thought he could get away with charging.
The prosecution against Brown was led by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards*, who worked with trading standards officers from Sutton Council.
He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to eight Fraud Act offences and four Proceeds of Crime Act offences, which relate to sums up to £665,000.
Richard Walsh, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing, said: ‘Our trading standards officers do their utmost to protect residents from rogue traders who are out to rip them off and will prosecute whenever they can.
‘Brown charged excessive sums for poor quality work and intimidated customers who challenged him but, thanks to the diligent work of trading standards teams in both Surrey and Sutton, he has now been made to pay for his crimes.’
The investigation was supported by the National Trading Standards Tri-Region Scambusters team, which gathered evidence from elderly victims of Brown across a number of south London boroughs. This partnership approach allowed trading standards officers to present a full picture of Brown’s criminality in court.
Carl Robinson, Chair of the Tri-Region Scambusters team, said: ‘This is an excellent result and reinforces the value and success of collaboration between local authority trading standards services and regional assets such as the Scambuster teams. Criminals have no respect for local authority borders, but together, as this case shows, we can successfully prosecute such cases to protect vulnerable consumers.’
*Buckinghamshire and Surrey operate a joint trading standards service