A LOAN shark who preyed on vulnerable Wearsiders has been blasted by a crown court judge.
George Laws handed out cash to customers who would not be able to get credit from legitimate lenders and charged extortionate rates of repayment – sometimes up to 100 per cent.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the 50-year-old took one woman’s cashcard and pin from her to take get her £25-per-week repayment.
Laws, of Augustus Square, Sunderland, admitted unauthorised money lending on the basis he started loaning cash to pals after he received a lump sum from an insurance payout and things “snowballed”.
Mr Recorder Nicholas Lumley QC sentenced Laws to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with a six-month night-time curfew and supervision.
The judge told him: “Basically, you are a loan shark, an unlicensed money lender.
“Over a period of two years, you loaned money to some of society’s most vulnerable people – in this case, some of the poor residents of Sunderland.
“You preyed on them in the sense they were desperate and would not have been able to obtain loans from elsewhere.
“If they borrowed from you, which they did with ease, they would have to pay back at least half as much again. It was a rate of at least 50 per cent, which is an astonishing amount.”
The judge spoke of the dangers of illegal money lending and the impact it can have.
He told Laws: “There is no regulation, victims are borrowing more easily than they should and what they are able to pay is not assessed.
“The authorities have no way of regulating a time over which money needs to be repaid or set any interest rate.
“People borrow, then they become ever more vulnerable, perhaps to the advances of other loan sharks to pay what they owe.
“Their misery is compounded simply to make you more wealthy.”
The court heard as Laws’ business grew, one of his customers reported to the police that he had seized her cashcard to ensure repayments.
When officers searched his home they found documentation relating to 10 customers and loans totalling more than £21,000.
His records showed he had already been paid back more than £24,000, but was demanding a further £8,400.
Prosecutor Kevin Wardlaw told the court: “He was local, convenient and people used him. Some customers, for every £100 borrowed would have to repay double.
“Some were paying a different rate of interest, for whatever reason.”
Graeme Cook, defending, said Laws’ lending to friends had “snowballed”.
Mr Cook added: “In no way has he ever intimidated anyone as far as trying to recover his money. At worst, he recovered a bank card and pin number to enable him to withdraw, with the customer’s consent, £25 per week out of her benefit money.”
Mr Cook said he accepted the 100 per cent interest rate charged to some customers was “too much”.