Published: 15:48, 05 July 2018
| Updated: 16:25, 05 July 2018
A shop in Chatham has been used by conmen to launder more than £510,000.
Lantom “O” Store in Batchelor Street received money from people from across the world who were tricked into thinking their friends were in need of cash.
Happy Bah, 33, of Camelot Court in Crawley, West Sussex, has been jailed for four years and nine and a warrant is out for his associate, Kwame Bryan, 46, from Surrey, after he pleaded guilty to money laundering but failed to attend his sentence hearing.
Police became aware of the operation in early 2015 when concerns were raised about unusually high amounts of money going into and out of Latom “O” Store, which had made payments of £259,541 between August and December 2014 and received £251,013.
When detectives carried out enquiries into the identities of the people who had allegedly received money via the business, they found that false driving licences, passport numbers, addresses and names had been provided.
Letters were sent to 49 people who had transferred money to the business to ask them why they had done so, which prompted 22 responses from victims of online scams from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Among them were people who had been tricked into believing they were responding to a friend in need, sending cash to somebody they had fallen in love with, or paying for lottery winnings to be delivered to them.
This was part of a large scale investigation which focused on a criminal operation run by Bah from the Sleep Depot in Broadwalk, Crawley.
It closed in 2014 but was involved in money laundering more than £750,000.
Detective Chief Inspector Lee Morton of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: “This has been a long and complex investigation into a money laundering operation emanating from a small shop in Chatham but affecting victims around the world.
“Happy Bah was responsible for moving the money around and we were able to prove he had been involved in online scams.
“He spared little thought for those who fell victim to his callous crimes, many of whom fell in love with fictitious people before being tricked into paying them thousands.
“While they are unlikely to ever see their money again, I hope they can take some comfort in the knowledge that Bah is now behind bars.
“It is important to never send money to someone online you have never met, and always think twice about posting personal information online which could be used to manipulate or bribe you.
“This fraud can be defeated by spreading public awareness and encouraging friends and family to always check the legitimacy of a stranger who has contacted them online.
"If you believe you are a victim of this fraud or know someone who is, please visit Action Fraud online or call 0300 123 2040.
“You can also report money laundering offences to us by calling 101 or visiting www.kent.police.uk/report. Alternatively call Kent Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”
More by this authorAmy Nickalls