A family of fraudsters – one of whom lives in Stotfold – pocketed more than £45million owed to the taxman and spent it on lavish lifestyles including luxury cars, art and property.
Geoffrey Copp, 55, together with his son Joshua, 24, and brother Andrew, 51, ran Central Payroll Specialists (CPS), which was later rebranded as Quality Premier Services (QPS), based in Rickmansworth.
These were umbrella payroll companies, which were used by recruitment agencies to manage the wages of thousands of temporary workers.
But the Copps did not pass the VAT they received from the recruitment agencies to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), a court heard.
Instead, they used it to fund their own luxury lifestyles.
The scam came to light after information was passed to Essex Police, resulting in an investigation led by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, with the assistance of HMRC’s Criminal Taxes Unit.
Enquiries led officers to Joshua Copp, who worked at Central Payroll Specialists and QPS. HMRC enquiries revealed he declared his income as £19,256 for the tax years between 2010 and 2015.
But his bank accounts were credited with £11.9million between 2011 and 2015.
Police executed a warrant to search his home in Olivers Lane, Stotfold, on May 21, 2015, where they found numerous items including designer clothing, Rolex and Audemars Piguet watches, and deposit transfers for a Las Vegas casino, which showed he had deposited chips and foreign currency worth $1.5million during a recent trip.
Enquiries revealed Copp was in the process of buying a £4.25million property in Barnet Lane, Barnet, and among the nine cars registered in his name were a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, a Lamborghini Aventador, a Bentley Continental, Rolls Royce Wraith and Rolls Royce Ghost.
On his mobile phone, officers found a photo of a notepad showing calculations of how the VAT fraud was worked out and then split between him and his father and uncle. The original notebook was later found at his desk at QPS.
He was arrested on suspicion of money laundering and released on bail while enquiries continued.
Further investigative work by Essex Police and HMRC into CPS and QPS’s finances found that the companies paid just under £4million in VAT between September 2012 and September 2015. HMRC investigators estimated there was just under £46million in unpaid VAT.
Tax records also showed that Geoffrey and Joshua paid no income tax between 2009 and 2015, while Andrew had paid £15,930.
Andrew was a director of QPS, of which his brother was a 100% shareholder.
Police, accompanied by HMRC, executed further search warrants on September 1, 2015 and arrested all three Copps on suspicion of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and money laundering.
They found £55,000 cash hidden in various places at Geoffrey’s home in Holland Close, Stanmore, including inside a Bentley GTC Convertible on the driveway.
Several Rolex watches, works of art, a Lamborghini, Bentley and Range Rover were found at Andrew’s home in Cardy Road, Hemel Hempstead.
They also searched a property in Galley Lane, Barnet, which Joshua had recently rented.
Enquiries revealed Geoffrey owned at least one other property in Stanmore, which was mortgage-free, and a home in Malaga, and had bought three Bentley Continentals in cash between 2013 and 2015.
Andrew had five mortgage-free properties (four in Hemel Hempstead and one in Coventry) and one in Malaga. In 2015 he paid more than £362,000 for a Range Rover Vogue, Lamborghini Gallardo and Bentley Continental.
In March 2016, all three Copps were charged with conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and conspiring to conceal, disguise, convert, transfer or remove criminal property.
They stood trial at Wood Green Crown Court and on Monday, June 5, Geoffrey, Andrew and Joshua Copp were found guilty of the charges against them and will be sentenced on Friday, June 9.
Speaking after the hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Josie Hayes, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: “Geoffrey, Andrew and Joshua Copp conducted a highly organised payroll fraud on a scale never before seen in the UK.
“They shamelessly took money destined for the public purse to fill their own wallets and brazenly fund extravagant lifestyles, which were beyond the means of many, including the workers whose wages they managed.
“This was unknown to the many hard-working temp staff whose wages they managed and the recruitment agencies who entrusted the Copps to manage payrolls and paid fees for those services.”
“Today’s convictions represent many months of detailed investigation and I’d like to thank the witnesses who provided evidence, and staff at HMRC’s Criminal Taxes Unit, with whom we have worked with closely.”
A fourth man charged with false accounting and conspiracy to cheat the public revenue was found not guilty by a jury and acquitted of the charges.