A 48-year-old man has been sentenced to three years in jail after admitting being involved in the theft of £23,000 from an elderly man in a bank in Grantham.
Ion Anghel, of Sherwood Street in Wolverhampton, previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal and was today sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court.
The investigation into the distraction theft, which took place in Natwest on St Peter’s Hill on December 14 last year when a 93-year-old local man’s bank card was stolen and £23,000 taken from his account, is continuing.
Jonathon Dee, prosecuting, said that Anghel, a Romanian national, pretended to be using the cash machine next to the one which his victim was using and watched as he entered his PIN number.
Two other men joined Anghel and after the pensioner took his cash from the machine he was distracted when a £20 bank note was dropped on the floor. Before he was able to look up, his bank card was switched for an identical stolen card. The victim put it into his wallet and walked out of the bank without realising what had happened.
The card was used at a cash machine within 15 minutes and over the next three days was used in both the East and West Midlands as well as in the London area. Cash was taken out from ATMs as well as purchases of high value items from stores.
Jonathon Dee, prosecuting, said: “He has a previous conviction in this country for a similar matter and also has previous convictions in Italy and Denmark for similar matters. He is currently wanted on an arrest warrant out for him in France.”
Mr Dee said that Anghel and his accomplices spent 30 minutes walking up and down the main street in Grantham checking out customers using bank machines before selecting their victim.
He said: “This was clearly a well-planned and well-practised deception. They were looking into bank lobbies clearly looking for a suitable victim.
“The victim is a man who has some disabilities. This all happened very quickly. The whole thing took just 45 seconds.”
The card was later repeatedly used before it was eventually rejected after an attempt to buy £4,000 worth of goods from a Currys store in Chingford.
Mr Dee said: “£23,000 was taken over two and a half days. There was very extensive use of the debit card. All of the money was refunded to (the victim) by the bank. The victim has been remarkably sanguine. He says he wasn’t aware it was happening and he got his money back. He says he has not been affected by it.”
The court was told that Anghel was sentenced to a 20-week jail sentence last month for a similar offence in Cheltenham involving the theft of a bank card from a 67-year-old woman. Anghel admitted theft of a bank card on 14 December 2015 and fraud.
The court was told that his two accomplices have been identified by police but officers have so far been unable to trace them.
Judge Simon Hirst, passing sentence, told Anghel: “This was a sophisticated offence. You deliberately targeted a vulnerable victim and found the most vulnerable victim you could that day.”
Naomi Nelson-Cofie, defending, said that although Anghel was a member of the gang he did not play a leading role.
She urged that he be given credit for pleading guilty and said he suffers from health problems and was scheduled to undergo an operation in Romania in March 2017.
DI Simon Bromiley, who is leading the enquiry, said: “We believe other individuals were involved in this incident and are doing our utmost to make sure those responsible are brought to justice as Anghel has been today.
“Whilst I am satisfied that one male has been convicted, the investigation remains a work in progress and officers are working hard to bring the remaining suspects to account. The victim in this case has coped amazingly well, not only with being subject to such a callous crime but also with the subsequent media attention and I can’t commend or praise him highly enough.”
The elderly victim served his country in the Second World War. NatWest has refunded the £23,000 stolen from his account.