Former St Helens solicitor jailed for organised crime timeshare scam

A former British solicitor and his partner, a bar owner on the Costa Del Sol, have been sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years for laundering organised crime money related to a fraudulent timeshare scheme

At Reading Crown Court, on March 24, 2022, Her Honour Judge Cambell sentenced St Helens-based Anthony Lea to three years in prison, and Ian Hollis to 18 months, both for the crime of money laundering.

Lea, 66, is a former solicitor struck off in 2001 for misusing client funds. Hollis, 59, is a bar owner in Calahonda on the Costa Del Sol.

Lea was immediately taken down to begin his sentence, but Hollis remains at large in Spain after presenting a fake COVID certificate in an attempt to avoid flying to the UK for the hearing. Sentencing Hollis in his absence, Judge Campbell said that he would be “taken straight to prison” if he ever returned to the country.

Lea and Hollis were convicted of laundering money on behalf of an organised crime ‘timeshare resale scam’. In this type of crime, fraudsters contact desperate timeshare owners, offering to buy their timeshare memberships at attractive prices, but demand advance fees of up to £2,000.

The victims, keen to escape restrictive and expensive timeshare contracts, pay up, then never hear from the ‘buyers’ again. In a shameless follow up move, a connected scam company would then contact the same victims and offer to get the stolen money back, for another fee.

Investigations by Trading Standards showed the firms to be fraudulent. The criminal organisation maintained anonymity by using the bank accounts of both Lea and Hollis.

Lea passed more than £465,000 though his account, and Hollis accounted for £75,000. Lea co-opted the accounts of a solicitor and an estate agent to try and conceal the path of the money

At the height of the operation, Anthony Lea physically passed a bag stuffed with £180,000 in cash to an unnamed contact at a UK motorway service station.

A tip off from a UK pensioner in 2016 triggered an in depth, joint investigation by a National Trading Standards Tri Region Investigation Team and local authority Trading Standards.

The timeshare-related crimes took place in 2011, but the complex investigation took several years and Lea was not charged until 2019, originally alongside the solicitor and estate agent he had utilised in his scheme. Accusations against the latter two were dropped when it became clear that Lea had been using their accounts without their involvement

Lea’s trial was due to start in 2020, but was delayed by 18 months by COVID. Hollis is still on the run in Spain but a warrant for his arrest is waiting for him should he ever return to the UK.

Daniel Keating, information officer for the Timeshare Consumer Association, said: “Timeshare has always been a magnet for criminal activity.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, well known British criminals laundered money through high pressure timeshare sales operations in Spain and the Canary Islands. After protective consumer laws were passed in Spain, the timeshare companies almost universally ignored them, making millions more at the expense of vulnerable tourists.

“Then came the criminal claims firms. Only a tiny amount of companies offering to help you escape your timeshare or claim compensation for being illegally sold are genuine. Avoiding the fraudsters is the main challenge for people looking to escape timeshare memberships.”

He added: “Both relinquishment and compensation claims (for people who fit the claim criteria) are possible.”