A Norfolk Police chief has condemned the actions of a former police officer after he conned business associates and the tax man out of more than £1 million.
35-year-old Ben Staff, a former Norfolk Police Officer, of Lucas Court in Norwich, was found guilty of two counts of fraud, two counts of false accounting, one count of converting criminal property and one count of fraudulent trading in relation to businesses including MR Trades Ltd, SES East Anglia and Morpheus Homes at Kings Lynn Crown Court on Monday 13 March 2016.
Following a second trial at Norwich Crown Court, Ben Staff was found guilty of fraud by false representation and converting criminal property yesterday (Monday 5 December 2016).
The court heard during both trials how Ben Staff traded off the reputation of the police to set up business deals and gain the trust of his victims whilst he used the money meant for the business accounts to pay for his lavish lifestyle.
The investigation into Ben Staff was launched in 2012 after a complaint was made to Norfolk Constabulary about his business practices.
The investigation was passed onto the Eastern Region Serious and Organised Crime Unit (ERSOU) but it was a subsequent journalistic investigation by the Eastern Daily Press indicating unethical business practices by Ben Staff which led to further victims contacting Norfolk Police and the investigation gained momentum.
Ben Staff was arrested in February 2014. Ben Staff, a former officer, had resigned from Norfolk Constabulary in 2008.
The court heard how payment’s relating to Ben Staff’s building and development companies, including MR Trades Ltd and SES (East Anglia) Ltd, were placed through his personal accounts rather than the business accounts themselves.
This led to Ben conning associates and creditors into thinking he had no money in his business accounts to pay them but instead he was paying the money into his personal accounts.
Ben wrote numerous cheques for thousands of pounds to building suppliers and associates knowing there were no significant funds in the account to cover the payments and in one year (timescales) the total of unpaid cheques amounted to £340,711.
Ben also conned the tax man out of thousands of pounds. As part of the business practice, Ben Staff submitted VAT returns to HMRC. During the trading periods of MR Trades and SES, Ben Staff has been paid nearly £130,163 in VAT to his personal account on either invoices not paid or on new build projects not subject to VAT.
The money gained from this dishonest practice was paid into Ben’s personal bank accounts.
In one case, Ben Staff conned one of his victim’s out of £140,000, leading them to believe they were investing in a company called Morpheus Homes Ltd. At the time of the investment, the company did not exist and a proportion of the money was again paid into Ben Staff’s personal accounts.
The money Ben conned from people was spent to fund his lavish lifestyle. He completely renovated his home, filing it with luxury items; bought an Audi A6 and a BMW; went on numerous holidays and paid for his wedding.
Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes from ERSOU, who has been leading the investigation, said: “This has been a highly complex and difficult investigation with a number of victims being conned out of huge sums of money. Ben Staff was nothing but a conman who manipulated his victims and his accounts for financial gain.
“I would like to thank the victims for their patience and help during the investigation and I hope the jury’s decision will help them move forward with their lives. I would also like to thank the team of police officers who have worked tirelessly and professionally throughout this investigation.”
T/Deputy Chief Constable Nick Dean said: “These are very serious offences that Ben Staff has been convicted of. The fact that, as a former officer, he traded on the reputation of the police is absolutely unforgivable.
“I want to take this opportunity to underline to the public that the Constabulary will pursue criminality wherever it exists and will robustly investigate allegations of criminal conduct against an individual whatever their background.
“This includes investigating thoroughly those who have previously worked for the constabulary, where the evidence demands it, as this case clearly demonstrates.”
Staff will be sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on Tuesday 3 January 2017.
Ben’s wife, Catriona Staff, aged 33 and of Lucas Court in Norwich, was acquitted of a separate charge of converting criminal property at Kings Lynn Crown Court on Monday 13 March 2016 and a further charge of converting criminal property was dismissed by the judge at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday 1 December.
Catriona, a serving police officer with Norfolk Constabulary, was suspended from duty in February 2014 pending the outcome of legal proceedings. She will be subject to internal disciplinary procedures in due course.