A GANG of car dealers fleeced hundreds of customers by using a combination of lies and deception, a court was told.
Hampshire Trading Standards launched a major investigation after receiving a huge number of complaints about businessman Richard Burbage and his associates, jurors heard.
Burbage and two co-defendants are facing five counts of fraudulent trading, including allegations that cars sold to members of the public were clocked.
More than one million miles were removed from the odometers of 17 “sample” cars that represented a tiny percentage of those involved, it is alleged.
The defendants are also accused of selling defective cars, falsely claiming that vehicles were covered by warranties, giving false descriptions of vehicles and failing to refund customers whose cars were either lawfully returned or not delivered.
All three men pleaded not guilty to all the allegations against them when their trial started at Salisbury Crown Cort yesterday.
Opening the case for the prosecution, Malcolm Gibney said trading standards officers had received hundreds of complaints from the defendants’ alleged victims.
He added: “The prosecution say Richard Burbage is the principal offender in this enterprise and the man behind a group of five companies through which the vehicles were brought and sold.
“He acted as a ‘shadow director’ in the background, providing financial backing, giving directions and reaping the rewards while avoiding any public accountability.”
Mr Gibney said the authorities were first alerted in the summer of 2013.
“Since then the individuals involved and their related businesses have moved within Hampshire and more than 230 complaints have been received.”
Mr Gibney said customers were confronted by “cocky, pushy salesmen” who persuaded them they were getting a bargain but whose “lies and misrepresentations” amounted to fraud.
The court heard that four businesses were initially linked to the defendants – Hampshire Vehicle Sales, Woolston Car Supermarket, Service 4 Life and Deltaflag.
Mr Gibney said the inquiry was handed over to Hampshire
Trading Standards, who started investigating a fifth firm called Swiftbird, which was formed in 2014.
He told the jury of five men and seven women that Burbage “put his head above the parapet” by becoming a director of the company.
Mr Gibney said trading standards examined the history of 38 vehicles sold between July 13 2013 and June 8 2016.
“The evidence will show that 17 of these were clocked vehicles which had in excess of one million miles removed,” he said.
Mr Gibney said the defendants bought many of the cars from auction houses or purchased vehicles they had seen advertised on ebay or in Autotrader magazine.
Autotrader became concerned about the number of complaints it was receiving and suspended several accounts used by the defendants, the court heard.
Burbage, 44, of Poplar Way, Southampton, has gone on trial with Ryan Overton, 22, of St Peter’s Close, Southampton, and Darryl Warren, 35, of Lower Derby Road, Portsmouth.
Mr Gibney said Overton was manipulated by Burbage, but both Overton and Warren were “active participants” in the frauds committed against members of the public.
He added: “The fourth person involved in these frauds is a man called Stan Rudgley. He was a director of two of the companies and actively involved in the dishonest representations and sales practices.
“The reason he is not in the dock is because he pleaded guilty at an earlier date to involvement in fraudulent trading.”
Burbage, Overton and Warren deny all the allegations against them.
The allegations contained in the indictment:
Count 1: Burbage and Overton, with Rudgley, trading as Woolston Car Supermarket, advertised vehicles using false mileage figures, reduced the mileage on odometers, falsely claimed that vehicles were covered by warranties, gave false descriptions of vehicles, failed to deliver vehicles and failed to refund the deposit or purchase price.
Count 2: Burbage and Overton, with Rudgley, trading as Woolston Car Supermarket, advertised vehicles using false mileage figures, reduced the mileage on odometers, falsely claimed that vehicles were covered by warranties, failed to deliver vehicles, gave false descriptions of vehicles, and failed to refund the deposit or purchase price.
Count 3: Burbage, with Rudgley, trading as Service 4 Life, advertised vehicles using false mileage figures, reduced the mileage on odometers, used forged vehicle documents and gave false descriptions of vehicles.
Count 4: Burbage and Warren, with Rudgley, trading as Deltaflag Ltd, advertised vehicles using false mileage figures, reduced the mileage on odometers, using forged vehicle documents, gave false descriptions of vehicles, and falsely claimed that vehicles were covered by warranties.
Count 5: Burbage, with Rudgley, trading as Swiftbird, advertised vehicles using false mileage figures, gave false descriptions of vehicles, falsely claimed that vehicles were covered by warranties and failed to deliver vehicles.