Suffolk bank manager admits fraud

A BANK manager in Suffolk masterminded a “Ponzi-style” fraud which investigators believe could total �700,000, a court has heard.

Simon Tomlinson

A BANK manager in Suffolk masterminded a “Ponzi-style” fraud which investigators believe could total �700,000, a court has heard.

Jason Benham is alleged to have taken more than �350,000 from his customers' accounts while he was running the Mildenhall and Lakenheath branches of Lloyds TSB.

The 36-year-old has pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by abusing a position of trust and one count of obtaining a money transfer by deception between June 1, 2005 and January 31, 2009.

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He has also asked for 34 other offences to be taken into consideration.

However, lawyers at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday could not agree on the amount Benham had benefitted from the scam.

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Prosecutor Rosalind Jones said the movement of money was so complex investigators had not been able to determine the full extent of the fraud.

But she claimed Lloyds may look to recover a figure of �700,000 - of which the total amount lost to customers was �354,845.

More than �89,000 of “unexplained payments” had also been found in Benham's personal bank account, she added.

Benham's lawyer claims he should be sentenced according an estimated personal gain of between �20,000 and �100,000. The case has been adjourned for further investigation until November 19.

During the hearing, it was revealed how Benham, of Feltwell in Norfolk, abused the trust of “financially na�ve” customers who rarely checked their accounts.

Ms Jones said Benham exploited a variety of financial products by transferring money between accounts, committing bigger offences to cover up previous ones.

Some customers received a net gain, she added.

“It was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she told the court.

Ms Jones said Benham would contact some clients “out of the blue” to offer them new loans.

Benham persuaded the wife of one victim, James Morris, that the couple's credit rating would improve if she took out a �23,000 loan to cover the �18,000 loan they had recently taken out.

The couple later discovered they were paying off both loans. Benham claimed it was an error and convinced them to take out a third loan to replace the previous ones.

Ms Jones said sums of �6,000, �17,000 and �12,000 had been taken out of their account immediately after the payment of each loan.

Benham also took out a �22,000 loan in a customer's name to buy a car, she said.

His scam eventually came to light when a client complained that �7,000 he had cashed from an endowment policy had not been used to reduce his debt with the bank.

The client was reimbursed with �327 interest using an unauthorised loan taken out in Benham's aunt's name.

When arrested, Benham admitted “much” of what the witnesses said, the court heard.

Jonathan Goodman, mitigating, said: “It was a Ponzi-style scheme, whereby small withdrawals to begin with got covered up by bigger withdrawals from others to replace the money from the first.”

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