Students lost £36,000 to fake site, court told
More than £35,000 was duped from international students, a court was told. The money came from pupils who thought they had secured places at a West Country private school, only for them to discover they had been victims of a fictitious website the court heard.
The website replicated Bathbased independent school Prior Park College and was even advertised on the London Underground.
But it was part of a sophisticated fraud and money laundering operation amassing £611,000 in just over a year, a trial starting at Bristol Crown Court heard on Tuesday.
Three men – Sanketkumar Patel, Chirag Patel and Danesh Pari – stand accused of laundering money from victims of the alleged fraud. This includes £36,000 from seven students wanting to study at Prior Park.
Alan Fuller, prosecuting, said the money from the students was paid into the defendants’ bank accounts, before quickly being transferred to other accounts or withdrawn.
Mr Fuller said: “The involvement of all three [defendants] came to light because of a fraud where foreign students were fooled into thinking they had gained places at Prior Park College.
“Places were offered and large sums of money were paid.”
The cash amounts from the college victims ranged from £100 to £6,500 and were for course fees and a document called a Certificate for a Visa (CAS) to assist with applying for a visa from the Home Office.
Forged CAS documents were sent to some of the students.
Mr Fuller said: “Prior Park College got inquiries from international students. They believed they had got places in the college, but they hadn’t. They had paid course fees. They had paid them to someone. Whoever took the money was fraudulently masquerading as Prior Park College.”
The website, Mr Fuller said, featured a Bath-based postal address and phone number along with an email.
Investigating trading standards officers from Bath and North East Somerset Council were alerted by the college’s business director. Soon after, two similar frauds relating to adverts for non-existent jobs at care homes in Cwmbran in Wales and in Surrey were uncovered, said Mr Fuller.
Mr Fuller said there was “no doubt there have been more victims” of the operation. The trio of defendants are also accused of acquiring a combined total of £551,750 through bank accounts which came from criminality not related to the 10 victims.
The alleged offences took place in 2015 and 2016.
Mr Fuller said: “The puzzle has more than the three pieces represented by the defendants. The prosecution accepts that there were other pieces, people, involved who are not here.
“But these three defendants played their parts in the picture.” Sanketkumar Patel, 35, of Eden Hall, Leicester is charged with four counts of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property; Chirag Patel, 43, of Wellspring Crescent, Wembley, London, is charged with 11 counts of acquiring criminal property; and Danesh Pari, of Plashet Grove, East Ham, London, 33, is charged with five counts of acquiring criminal property. The trio deny all charges. The case continues.
A fake website claimed to offer places at Prior Park College in Bath