A LANCASHIRE man has been jailed for three years and ten months for the sale of counterfeit DVDs, CDs and MP3s, which yielded almost half a million pounds.
Lester Hawkes, 58, of Drummersdale Lane, Scarisbrick, received the custodial sentence today (Friday 12 July) when he appeared at Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty to two counts of the supply and sale of copyright and patented articles, two counts of money laundering and five counts of benefit fraud at an earlier hearing.
He received three years imprisonment for the supply and sale of copyright and patented articles and the money laundering and ten months, which is to run consecutively, for the benefit fraud.
His wife, Pauline Hawkes, 53, of the same address, also received a suspended prison sentence of 21 months after earlier pleading guilty to two counts of money laundering and five counts of benefit fraud. She received 15 months for the money laundering and six months for the benefit fraud, which is to run consecutive.
Two counts of the supply and sale of copyright and patented articles will lie on Pauline Hawkes’ file.
The couple were involved with a website called Flying Warlocks, as well as sub-domains Witch and Misty, where counterfeit DVDs, CDs and MP3s were sold making around £460,000 in five years (between November 2004 and May 2011) through 22,200 separate transactions – whilst living in a four bedroom detached house where the rent was paid through state benefits and claiming over £74,000 in housing and council tax benefit and income support.
Lester Hawkes has been ordered to pay back £3,190 under the Proceeds of Crime Act and, if he doesn’t pay this money back within six months, he faces a further custodial sentence. Should he come into any more money in the future, he may also have to pay that back.
The result follows an investigation by Titan’s North West Regional Asset Recovery Team (NWRART) – a regional unit, which plays a critical role in reducing crime through asset recovery.
The NWRART together with Lancashire Constabulary executed a warrant at their house in December 2010 alongside investigators from the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) where they found CD and DVD recording equipment, master copies of music albums and films and blank discs for recording.
Upon investigation, it was established that the websites were offering its members access to a marketplace – for a £10 monthly fee – where pirated copies of tens of thousands of music tracks, films, games, audio books and software packages were sold.
Det Supt Jason Hudson from Titan’s North West Regional Asset Recovery Team said: “This couple were living a really comfortable lifestyle on the back of proceeds from trade in counterfeit products, whilst also committing benefit crime. I am pleased to see that justice has been served.
“The trade in counterfeit products damages legitimate businesses as well as funding criminality and is often linked to serious and organised crime. We will continue to work with other agencies to take action against those we believe to be involved in such crime.”
Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, added: “Benefit fraud costs the taxpayer around £1billion every year. This money is intended to help those most in need not line the pockets of criminals. That’s why we’re reforming the benefits system, and making it less open to abuse.”
Kieron Sharp, FACT Director General, added: “It is clear that Lester and Pauline Hawkes were running a criminal business empire funded by stealing the creative works of others. Increasingly FACT is evidencing large scale online criminal operations where substantial profits are being made and, crucially, they threaten the livelihoods of the two million people who work in the UK’s creative industries.”