A convicted loan shark has been ordered to pay back more than £50,000 following a financial investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
Marylou Gonzales, 44 of Vine Road, Shirley, Southampton had assets amounting to £52,694. The court ordered that she pay back this amount within six months or face 18 months imprisonment under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Some of the moneyrecovered will be used to help communities to avoid loan sharks and other unscrupulous operators.
Gonzales was investigated by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) working with Southampton City Council's Trading Standards. She previously pleaded guilty to illegal money lending and in April this year was sentenced to a 12 month community order and 150 hours of unpaid work.
At today’s hearing Simon Mortimer on behalf of the prosecution told Southampton Crown Court how Gonzales made a total of £125,000 lending to members of the local Filipino community over a six year period.
Gonzales was arrested when officers from the IMLT executed a warrant at her home seizing documentary evidence of the illegal business in August 2011.
While the scale of her business is unclear, it is believed Gonzales had between 30 and 60 borrowers. Records suggest that from 2005 up until her arrest in 2011 she had loaned over £50,000. She never offered paperwork, so borrowers were completely in the dark as to how much they were repaying.
Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Southampton City Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for communities, said: “These are difficult times for many households and there’s a lot of pressure to make ends meet. People who may have lost their jobs, have outstanding debts or are struggling to get credit through the usual means can feel like they’ve run out of options and turn to loan sharks.
“Today’s outcome demonstrates that we will not sit by and let these predators take advantage of desperate people.
“The council does not use the Proceeds of Crime Act lightly but we will not allow criminals to benefit from their activities. Funds recovered from this case will be used to help victims and benefit the wider community.
“We will continue to work alongside the national Illegal Money Lending Team to track down and prosecute loan sharks, as well as to offer practical advice to help people through tough times.”
Tony Quigley, Head of the IMLT, said: “Loan sharks are motivated purely by greed. They do not offer a community service and cause nothing but misery. Through proceeds of crime legislation we are able to hit illegal money lenders where it hurts, preventing them from profiting through crime. Today’s result sends a clear message that we will tackle this crime and strip offenders of their ill-gotten gains.
"We would urge anyone who is aware of an illegal money lenders operating to contact us in confidence on 0300 555 2222 as we will continue to stop them.”
Nationally over 210 prosecutions have been secured for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 130 years worth of custodial sentences. The Illegal Money Lending Teams have written off almost £40million worth of illegal debt and helped over 18,000 victims.
In the coming weeks, the council and the IMLT will be out in the community offering advice on how to avoid loan sharks and helping those who have been victims.
To report a loan shark:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003