A doorstep conman who took more than £39,000 from elderly and vulnerable victims in the Scarborough area has been jailed for two and a half years following an investigation involving North Yorkshire Trading Standards experts.
He has also been banned from ‘cold calling’ homes anywhere in the UK for the next decade and now faces legal action under the Proceeds of Crime Act which could strip him of assets to repay money taken.
Walter Kaziah Lee, aged 46, pleaded guilty to four offences of fraud and two under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and was sent to prison as a result.
The case against Lee, of Parkway Stables, Jubilee Lane, Blackpool, was investigated by the multi-agency safeguarding team, Operation Gauntlet, which is hosted by the County Council’s Trading Standards service.
Lee’s offending took place between September 26, 2018, and July 3, 2019, netting him a total of £39,880 from victims.
All who fell prey to Lee had work done at their properties, including roofing, power washing and other repairs but much was found to be of poor quality, substantially overcharged or not done despite those involved paying Lee’s bills.
Among his victims were a 79 year old widow from Filey who was taken to the Post Office by Lee to withdraw cash. She paid £4,000 and although he offered to repay half after her son intervened, he only returned £900. Another £2,000 is now also required to put right the work Lee did on her home.
At Scalby, a 72 year old woman agreed pay £150 for gutters clearing but ended up paying £8,250 after Lee identified further work. A surveyor later concluded the repairs should have cost only £3,750 but the quality of Lee’s work meant his efforts were only worth £1,710. At the time, she was a carer for her 75 year old husband, who had Alzheimer’s and has since died.
A Robin Hood’s Bay resident, aged 72, who is now in a care home with dementia, was given two invoices, for £3,000 and £6,000 but a surveyor could find no evidence of work being done to justify the second charge at all.
Lee also targeted a 78 year old widow from Scalby, whose daughters were trying to assist her in maintaining her home following their father’s death. Despite the roof being replaced in 2016, Lee claimed moss was causing the structure to sag and needed work costing £14,000.
He also claimed work to the drive was needed, giving a total charge of £18,600. A surveyor appointed by Trading Standards valued the work at £4,710.
Lee was sentenced at York Crown Court where HHJ Hickey set out a timetable for Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation proceedings and imposed a ten year Criminal Behaviour order, barring him from cold calling addresses in the UK or getting others to do so for him.
In a victim personal statement one of the daughters of the 78 year old widow told the court:
“As a result of this I feel I have no choice but to force my mum to live closer to me. This is a very difficult and upsetting decision, as she has lived in that house for 40 years.
The stress and upset he has caused has been profound.
Both my sister and I are key workers. Front line NHS staff who worked throughout the Covid pandemic. We have a strong work ethic and try our best for all our patients. The fact that Walter can cheat my family the way he has and leave such destruction and upset in his path leaves me without words.”
Her sister added:
“Emotionally it has been very challenging for our mum, my sister, and myself, we have been traumatised by the experience and it has increased our mistrust of tradespeople.
I hope Walter has time in prison to reflect on his conduct and repent. These people believed in him and he took their money and let them down, and caused great stress and anxiety along the way.”
Another victim said:
“I feel violated and very vulnerable at the minute. I’m so disappointed and embarrassed about it all. Hindsight is a great thing. I took in good faith what this trader was telling me. I’ve learnt a lesson.
That money is important to me. I’ve earned that money honestly and I’m very careful with my money. I now have to save that money again to get my roof repaired.”
Two victims also praised the Operation Gauntlet team stating:
“I have to say that North Yorkshire Trading Standards have been very supportive and done all they can to make the situation easier” and “I am so glad North Yorkshire County Council have this unit, to try and help us deal with this awful situation and ensure Walter can no longer exploit and capitalise from the vulnerability of others.”
County Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for Trading Standards warned: “Yet again we have seen the callous behaviour of these doorstep criminals exhibited by Walter Lee.
“Please do not deal with doorstep callers. Legitimate businesses do not need to cold call and you should deal with local traders by recommendation through family, friends and neighbours.
“I would also warn any like-minded offenders that, if they are thinking of coming into North Yorkshire to target our elderly and vulnerable residents, our Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team will respond accordingly. We have a zero tolerance approach to such offending.”