A Loan Shark who charged more than 100 per cent interest on loans to taxi drivers has pleaded guilty two counts of unlicensed money lending
Former motor dealer Mark Constantine, aged 55, of Higher Stert Terrace in Prince Rock, Plymouth, arranged 70 loans targeting vulnerable cabbies and private drivers who were desperate for help.
The court heard that Constantine had a previous conviction for altering the mileage on vehicles for sale, or “clocking” as part of that business. Stuart Jessop, for the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said that Constantine had been licensed to lend money when he traded as Maritime Car Company.
However, that licence lapsed in 2011 and wasn’t renewed or a new application made, but Constantine still went on to set up Mark Anthony Cars Ltd to finance vehicles for taxi drivers.
Mr Jessop, said that the victims had trouble obtaining credit through high-street banks or other mainstream lenders because they were regarded as a risk. The court heard that taxi and private hire drivers were either provided with vehicles with regular payments plus interest or lent money at excessive interest rates, with drivers typically paying back at least £100 per week.
In total 70 finance agreements were taken out, charging an average rate of interest of 107 per cent – though sometimes significantly higher. One example that was quoted by Mr Jessop involved a driver borrowing £3,000, with a total repayment of £8,000 – £5,000 in interest alone, an ‘eye-watering’ figure according to Judge Lawrie.
To ensure these loans were repaid, Constantine took different forms of collateral, including spare car keys and an electricity payment card from one customer. If all else failed Constantine used what the judge in the case called “an element of pressure” to make sure he was paid. But during the summing up Judge Lawrie said that Constantine did not threaten or use violence against any customer who struggled to meet repayments.
However, Constantine was still unlicensed and unregulated, making all the loans illegal. Judge Ian Lawrie told him: “What I find distasteful is that vulnerable people are being exploited, whilst stating that his repayment terms had been clear and interest rates didn’t vary over the term of the loans.”
Constantine who pleaded guilty to two counts of unlicensed money lending covering four years up to his arrest in May last year was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. Prosecutors at the Illegal Money Lending Team have now launched legal action under the Proceeds of Crime Act to identify and seize assets.
The court heard that he had £59,400 in five bank accounts when he was arrested, but Barry White, for Constantine, said that he now had no money and no cars. Mr White stated to the court that Constantine had wound up his business and paid off his tax liabilities, with no chance of recovering his outstanding loan repayments from his clients.
Tony Quigley, head of the Illegal Money Lending Team, said after the case: “We will continue to work to combat loan sharks. They can cause untold misery to the most disadvantaged in our communities. We would urge anyone with information about loan sharking or victims of loan sharks to contact the team on 0300 555 2222.”
Mr Quigley also said: ‘Illegal money lending is a crime and will not be tolerated. Loan sharks often prey on vulnerable people, leaving them in misery and fear and with very little to get by on.’
Nationally the Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured more than 321 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to nearly 205 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £62 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 25,000 victims.
Constantine is now working as a driver on a minimum wage, but not believed to be a taxi or private hire driver!!!