A BUSINESSMAN has been jailed for stealing over £2 million of taxpayers’ money while he was in control of multiple failing companies in the construction industry. He used the funds to pay off debts and purchase a cottage in Kent. Ben Richardson, 47, from Deal in Kent, pleaded guilty to multiple tax evasion offences, including being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of value added tax to the sum of nearly £1.8 million.
Other offences to which Richardson admitted included fraudulently evading income tax, fraudulently evading National Insurance contributions and failing to disclose Construction Industry Scheme returns, resulting in an additional sum of nearly £380,000.
Appearing at Maidstone Crown Court on Friday 3 March, Ben Richardson was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
Richardson ran a succession of four companies, all involved in the sale of modular buildings to construction sites between October 2010 and July 2019. His wife, Dawn Richardson, also aged 47, was involved in all four companies and accepted her role in the criminal activity. She was sentenced to 17 months, suspended for 18 months.
Ben Richardson was director of SBR UK. He also ran Merrydale Enterprise Ltd, and made them pay VAT on invoices for work they had been sub-contracted to carry out by SBR UK. He did this despite SBR UK not being registered for VAT at the time. He was able to carry out the scam by illegally using a VAT registration number for another business that he owned at the time (one which he knew had been de-registered for VAT).
As director of Merrydale Enterprise Ltd, Richardson reclaimed a total of £256,078.40 from HMRC for the VAT he had paid SBR UK, knowing he was not entitled to do so.
SBR UK did not account for any VAT that it charged Merrydale Enterprise Ltd or any of its other customers. This totalled £1,212,955.32.
Another company Richardson operated, namely SBR Modular, took over SBR UK’s contracts when it became insolvent in July 2015. While director of the new company, Richardson continued his fraudulent evasion of VAT to the sum of £91,139.49. This company itself became insolvent in July 2016.
Richardson and an associate, Michael Brown, aged 59, set up a fourth company called Ilex Industries from a cottage in Deal, Kent, which was purchased with a deposit of £219,123 funded entirely by his tax evasion at SBR UK. This company followed the same criminal pattern as the other companies – charging VAT to customers and not submitting monthly returns to HMRC, in turn running up a total of £239,723 between May 2016 and April 2019. Brown was director in name only as Richardson maintained control.
Gurminder Sanghera, legal manager at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “Ben Richardson did all he could to evade paying his fair share to society through his control of these companies. He was determined to make as much money as he could to pay off his spiralling debts and fund his lifestyle and evaded paying more than £2 million in tax.”
Sanghera continued: “Evading taxation is not a victimless crime. The public rely on the revenue generated by tax to fund essential services, such as the National Health Service and education. The dishonest evasion of VAT, income tax and National Insurance therefore impacts on us all.”
In addition, Sanghera stated: “The CPS will now pursue confiscation proceedings in an effort to prevent these defendants from enjoying the ongoing benefit of their criminal conduct.”
While running Ilex Industries, Richardson and Brown also oversaw the evasion of income tax and National Insurance contributions on payments to themselves as employees, under the PAYE scheme, totalling £117,730 and £88,545 respectively. They also failed to disclose (to HMRC) deductions from payments to sub-contractors under the Construction Industry Scheme totalling £171,074.97. Contractors must register for this scheme, which requires them to deduct money from a sub-contractor’s payments and pass it to HMRC, with the deductions counting as advance payments towards the sub-contractor’s tax and National Insurance.
Pete Vivian, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: “Ben Richardson stole from the taxpayer to fund a lifestyle that was out of his reach. He evaded taxes, ran up debts and closed businesses with an expectation that the honest tax-paying majority would pick up the tab.”
Vivian continued: “He has now started a lengthy prison sentence and we continue to work with CPS colleagues to recover his ill-gotten gains. All four convictions are testament to the dedication of our investigators who launched three linked investigations that ultimately brought these fraudsters to justice.”
He concluded: “HMRC is on the side of the law-abiding majority and will pursue the small minority who think they can steal the money that funds our vital public services. We encourage anyone with information about any type of tax fraud to report it to us online.”
Ben Richardson and his sister Vickie Amas, 47, were also both convicted of concealing criminal property for the laundering of funds from SBR UK to pay the deposit on Ilex Cottage. Amas was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
Brown was sentenced (at a separate hearing conducted at Maidstone Crown Court) to 20 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, for his role in Ilex’s fraudulent activity.
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