22 years jail for VAT fraud gang

A gang of four fraudsters, including a former US judge and a music producer, has been jailed for a total of 22 years for their part in a £40m VAT fraud.

For over two years the group bought and sold mobile phones through bogus firms, using fake receipts to charge VAT.

Musician Stephen Pigott, 42, of Dubai, was jailed for nine years while ex-New York judge Stacey Haber-Hofberg, 43, of Liphook, Hampshire, received six years.

Two accomplices from London were jailed for 42 months by the Canterbury judge.

The group made false invoices in the names of existing British companies, using logos from the internet to make them look genuine.

Buyers were then instructed to make payment to the Hong Kong bank accounts of a number of companies set up as “clones” of the British firms.

The type of scam is known as “carousel” because the same goods can be bought and sold repeatedly by the same companies, cheating the tax man out of VAT each time.

Judge Adele Williams labelled the fraud “both audacious and outrageous”.

Sentencing the four, she said: “I accept that none of you were the masterminds behind this fraud but each of you played your part.”

Pigott, who has played with pop stars Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and the Pet Shop Boys, had pleaded guilty earlier to cheating the Inland Revenue and money laundering.

He was described as the “leading light” of the group and the court heard he had used numerous fake identities to set up bogus firms in Hong Kong.

Haber-Hofberg, who has served as a New York environmental law judge and is now a music lawyer, was jailed for the same offences after a trial.

She helped Pigott to set up the fake companies.

Pigott then recruited fitness instructor Joanna Harris, 36, and Theresa Ifeyinwa Igbanugo, 38, a record label director, both of Sydenham, south London.

They were also convicted of the same two offences after the trial.

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