A PENSIONER has been fleeced out of £61,700 of his life savings by a conman gardener.
The vulnerable 80-year-old, from South Hylton, was befriended and persuaded to hand over regular sums of cash by heartless scamster Mark Wild.
The 29-year-old gambling addict visited his victim under the alias Paul Collins, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
He was paid £200 in January 2010 for labour he did not do, then started borrowing regular, large sums of money from the householder.
Prosecutor Tim Gittins said Wild came up with a series of excuses as to why he needed to borrow money, including a claim he was being charged £300 every 12 hours by his bank for running up an overdraft.
The confused victim, determined to be of help, readily handed over the cash and Wild signed a series of IOUs using the fake name.
Even when the pensioner’s neighbours grew suspicious about his repeated visits, Wild continued his cruel scam.
Mr Gittens said: “He had begun to be seen by neighbours and they were concerned for him and tried to warn the defendant off, effectively threatening him that they knew what he was up to.
“That led to the defendant resorting to parking around the corner and entering the man’s property via the rear garden in an attempt to evade the neighbours.”
Recorder Eric Elliott jailed the 29-year-old, of Brockwell Street, Bowburn, County Durham, for three years after he admitted fraud.
The judge told him: “For any older person to suffer any loss is bad, but for a person of 80 years to suffer such great loss hardly bears thinking about.
“You literally raided his bank account with repetition.
“In my view it was not only wicked behaviour, it was callous and cruel.”
During the time he was faking friendship to get his hands on the Wearside pensioner’s cash, Wild conned three more elderly people, one of whom has since died, in similar garden work scams.
A 78-year-old woman, from Whitburn, was persuaded to hand over £770 for gardening work she did not need done, and became distressed when Wild returned to the property asking for more cash.
Mr Gittins said: “The victim’s daughter described a deterioration in the pensioner’s well-being and says effectively the effect on her and on her confidence was to destroy what remained of her independent living.”
An 86-year-old woman from Washington was targeted at a time when her family had installed a covert camera in her property because money had been handed over to bogus gardeners.
Footage showed that while the pensioner was handing the money over, Wild was blocking a notice put up in the woman’s kitchen to remind her not to pay anyone saying they had done work at the house.
A 70-year-old man from Sunderland, who has since died, was conned into handing over more than £4,000 for work his brother had already paid for.
Jamie Adams, mitigating, said Wild has a pathological gambling addiction which his family said leaves him “frothing at the mouth” to satisfy.
Mr Adams said Wild is otherwise intelligent and articulate and added: “The psychiatric report shows what has been driving this man is nothing short of an illness.
“It is an addiction to gambling which frankly completely overwhelms him and drives him to do what he has done.”