Lowestoft: Shopkeeper’s criminal sideline netted thousands

A SHOPKEEPER who moonlighted as a loan shark for 11 years, charging excessive rates of interest to borrowers including “particularly vulnerable adults”, has been spared an immediate jail term.

Michael Szpytma, of Elm Tree Road, Lowestoft whose discount DVD and record store doubled as an illegal lending outfit in the town’s Station Square, was handed a six month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work, at Ipswich Crown Court today.

The 57-year-old’s shop was searched last September following an investigation by officers from Suffolk Trading Standards illegal money lending team, who uncovered an address book and diary containing names and amounts of money, a pension book belonging to someone else, and bags of cash - one holding �8,000.

Szpytma’s records were so poorly kept that investigators were unable to tell for sure how much his operation was worth but prosecutor Simon Mortimer told the court his biggest loan was �350 and that he imposed an annual percentage rate of interest estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Szpytma told arresting officers he lent only small amounts of money and advised borrowers: “I’ll give you a tenner, you give me back �20.”

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He also bought shopping for a man with mental health problems, charging over and above the value of the goods despite being asked not to by social services.

Szpytma, who is married and has a 30-year-old son, was charged under the Consumer Credit Act and admitted lending money without a proper licence on April 28.

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Katharine Moore, defending, said Szpytma had been otherwise “out of trouble for very many years” and that he had never threatened his victims with violence. The man with mental health problems, she added “was unable to distinguish between the truth and lies. According to a care service manager, lying came as second nature to him.”

Szpytma, who had disclaimed his interest in �22,000 seized by police, was also ordered to pay �2,200 in court costs by Judge Martin Binning, who added: “Operating an unlicensed business is always a serious matter. I accept you offered no threats to those you met but you were certainly charging a high rate of interest.

Judge Binning gave Szpytma credit for his guilty plea and advised him to “stop lending any money whatsoever.”

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