Fourth woman jailed in connection with large scale fraud case.
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A fourth woman who was part of a gang who committed large-scale fraud offences across the North West has been jailed.
Sonia Malhi appeared at Carlisle Crown Court on Friday 29 January where she was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
The 38-year-old of Hobson Crescent, Audenshaw, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, theft, possession of a weapon in a public place and possession of class A drugs (cocaine).
She also admitted a second conspiracy to commit fraud – which related a separate investigation by Cumbria Constabulary.
Three sisters - Sarah Burdon (40), Lynsey Burdon (36) and Emmiline Burdon (29) – were sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years in prison at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday 4 August as part of same investigation.
The trio had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.
The investigation into the group began in in February 2020 when officers from Cheshire Constabulary and Merseyside Police’s Economic Crime Team became a group of four women who were committing payment card fraud in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside.
During their enquiries officers discovered that the group had been attending high-end stores and restaurants, including businesses in Mobberley, Northwich, Knutsford and Alderley Edge, to purchase goods using the payment card details from the stolen receipts.
From the initial offence, on Tuesday 17 December 2019, officers were able to identify more than 150 fraudulent transactions at various locations across the North West, Yorkshire and Leicestershire between October 2019 and May 2020, with losses totalling more than £62,000.
Items targeted included designer clothing, power tools, high performance car parts, motorcycles and motorcycle accessories.
While the women kept some of the items they bought fraudulently, on other occasions they would return to the stores and request a refund.
They would then put their own payment card into the machine so that the money would go into their own personal bank accounts. The group received more than £16,000 worth of fraudulent refunds from doing this.
Their crime spree came to an end on Wednesday 13 May a team of 50 officers from Cheshire executed warrants at the home addresses of the four women in Greater Manchester.
They were all arrested and a number of items were recovered including an Audi car, motorcycle clothing, two electric scooters, designer watches and clothing, furniture and a quantity of cash.
Following the sentencing Detective Constable Claire Heatley from Northwich Local Policing Unit, who led the investigation, said: “Malhi’s sentencing brings to a close what has been a lengthy and complex investigation spanning many force borders.
“Over an eight month period the gang systematically siphoned more than £45,000 from the accounts of innocent members of the public by purchasing items using stolen account details.
“They even had the audacity claim refunds of a number of these items and had the money put into their own personal accounts. This resulted in the group receiving more than £16,000.
“Even being in a lockdown during the coronavirus crisis did not stop the women in their pursuit for the luxury life. When high street stores were closed, they started targeting off-licences and petrol stations where they purchased large quantities of alcohol and cigarettes along with hundreds of pounds worth of Lottery tickets.
"Using the skills she learnt while working with the Burdon sisters, Malhi also set up her own separate gang who scammed nearly 14,000 from luxury hotels and restaurants in Cumbria.
“Thankfully, their illegal spending spree has been stopped and all four women are all now facing the consequences of their actions.”
Following their sentencing, a Proceeds of Crime hearing will take place at a later date where a decision will be made regarding the seizure, and possible sale of, any assets owned by the women.
Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner, David Keane, added: “This conviction sentencing is testament to the dedication and commitment by the officers and staff at both Cheshire Constabulary and Merseyside Police to disrupt criminal activity and to continue to keep our communities safe.
“Fraud is often seen a victimless crime, but behind each incident lies a victim who has often lost a vast amount of money. Many of the victims targeted in this case were small, independent businesses and the actions of the offenders had a major impact on their livelihoods.
“I would like to personally thank all of the officers involved in this case and I hope that the sentencing of these four women will provide reassurance to the victims and also act as a warning for other offenders.”