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Trio guilty of property scam

A CONWOMAN and her two sidekicks have been found guilty of plotting to swindle a retired teacher out of thousands of pounds in an equity release scam.

Carol Penfold told victim Carole Wood she could turn £70,000 into £500,000 in a decade and got her to remortgage her bungalow in Ashburton to raise cash.

Ms Wood was introduced to Penfold by her friend Antoinette Ede, who told her she could help her get out of financial problems.

The plot developed as Penfold persuaded Ms Wood to take out equity release on her £200,000 home, eventually generating £78,000 after professional fees were paid.

Ede was Penfold’s niece and joined her at one of the meetings with the equity released adviser, during which one of pair pretended to be Ms Wood’s sister to explain their presence.

Penfold also accompanied Ms Wood to meet the solicitor and escorted her to the bank as soon as the cash turned up in her account in May 2020.

Under her guidance, Ms Wood withdrew £48,000 cash in the space of three days and brought her secret lover Jeff Wilkes into the plot so she could transfer a further £15,000 via the account of his groundworks business.

Penfold schooled Ms Wood in how to lie to the bank to explain the withdrawals and to say the payment for Wilkes was for building work.

Wood believed Penfold to be acting as a friend and adviser and was unaware that she is a conwoman with convictions for fraud, theft and perverting the course of justice who received a four year jail term in 2007.

The plot only unravelled because the bank became suspicious and alerted the police and Ms Wood’s daughter, who went to confront Penfold and found her with just £29,750 of the cash at her home in Kingsteignton.

Some of the money had been spent on buying a Mitsubishi truck for £10,400, although police later discovered it was a rebuilt cut-and-shut insurance write-off worth less than £7,000.

Another £5,000 was paid to Ede as her share of the fraud, although she claimed it was a loan from Penfold to fix her husband’s van which just happened to be given to her on the same day that Ms Wood withdrew the money.

She repaid it and the bank stopped the transfer to Wilkes, meaning she got much of her money back.

All three denied any dishonest intent during a week-long trial at Exeter Crown Court. Penfold said she was trying to help her niece’s friend and had never offered high yield investments.

Ede said she knew nothing of the fraud and told the jury: ‘I’m a bit thick. I don’t understand long words like investment.’

Wilkes chose not to give evidence but claimed he believed the transfer was a genuine deposit for building work which he returned voluntarily.

Penfold, aged 62, of Meadowcroft Drive, Kingsteignton, Ede, aged 53, of Manor Rd, Newton Abbot, and Wilkes, aged 58, of Exeter Road, Kingsteignton, all denied conspiracy to defraud.

They were all found guilty by unanimous verdicts after two and a half hours and all will be sentenced next month after the probation service have prepared reports.

Judge David Evans said a timetable will also be set under the Proceeds of Crime Act which could result in assets being seized to pay compensation.

During the trial Mr Lee Bremridge, prosecuting, said Ms Wood knew Ede through a mutual interest in horses and told her in early 2018 that she had money worries. Ede introduced her to Penfold, who she described as her aunt, and took her to her home.

Ms Wood gave Penfold all her bank details and she applied for loans and credit cards unsuccessfully before suggesting releasing equity on a £200,000 house she owned in Emmetts Park, Ashburton.

Penfold posed as her sister so she could sit with her at meetings with an equity release adviser that led to a payment of £79,000, of which about £1,000 went in professional fees.

The rest was paid into Ms Wood’s account in May and most was withdrawn over the next three days, with Penfold escorting her to the Natwest branch in Courtenay Street on each occasion.

Ms Woods withdrew £10,400 cash on the first day which was used to buy a Mitsubishi truck in a sale arranged by Penfold. The pick-up was later valued at £7,000 by police.

The next day she tried to withdraw £35,000 but the bank would only let her take out £20,000, so the remaining £15,000 was transferred to Wilkes.

The final withdrawal happened the next day, May 24, when £18,000 was handed to Penfold, supposedly to invest.

Mr Bremridge said: ‘Penfold did everything she could to gain Ms Wood’s trust and confidence. She promised to invest the money and guaranteed that in ten years, £75,000 would become £500,000.

‘She said the money would be a wonderful surprise for her daughter and she agreed to keep it a surprise and not to tell her.’

The bank called in the police, who alerted the daughter, and she and her mother went to Penfold’s home, where they saw a large amount of cash on a table. It was £29,750 which was returned to the bank account.

Penfold told Ms Wood that she had given £5,000 to Ede and that she would return it.

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