A career criminal has been caught for a second time in just over a decade trying to defraud the gambling industry – this time in a scheme that netted him and his accomplices more than £600,000.
Thomas Wheatcroft, of Portsmouth, teamed up with a gang of crooks to steal the cash from betting shops across the land, from London all the way up to Merseyside.
His system was hardly the stuff you’d see in a high-tech heist film – he used laminated bank notes to feed into the slot machines, adding funds to his account. Once the note had been logged by the system, he would pull it out of the slot using an attached ‘lead’.
Wheatcroft and his chums would then cash out their ill-gotten gains in the chains of Coral and Ladbrokes – walking away with thousands at a time.
Soon, staff at the affected shops realised that huge sums of money could not be accounted for as they were cashing up in the evening, and they alerted authorities to what appeared to be a well-choreographed routine.
The Met Police’s Specialist Crime Unit sprang into action – arresting Wheatcroft and his accomplices Charlie Shaw, Michael Sadgrove-Tarrant and Paul Hubbold. They were later charged and appeared at Kingston Crown Court on Monday, pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud.
All told, it’s believed they carried out 168 such crimes that earned them a cool £600k, and as the ringleader Wheatcroft was sentenced to four years and three months’ imprisonment. His co-conspirators were either imprisoned or handed suspended sentences.
Detective Constable Kevin Parley was ‘pleased’ that the main perpetrators are behind bars.
“The substantial sums of money stolen by the group is a significant loss to the businesses these men had targeted,” he said.
“We worked closely with security officials from both firms to carry out a joint investigation, which included gathering evidence to bring forward a robust case against the four men.”
Fruits of His Labour
As mentioned, it’s not the first time that Wheatcroft has served time for attempting to defraud the gambling sector.
Back in 2009, he was part of another group effort that targeted the old-style ‘fruit’ slot machines at motorway service stations across England.
Aged 29 at the time, Wheatcroft was part of the gang that robbed ‘tens of thousands’ of pounds from the slots. They used a ‘sophisticated electronic method’ for depositing credits into the machine, before walking away with real cash of up to £500 a time.
The group, who reportedly committed several offences every day over the span of their heist, were eventually caught and Wheatcroft, seen as the ringleader, received the longest prison sentence of 40 months. That man Charlie Shaw, who was part of the more recent syndicate, also served time for the fruit machine fraud.
Commenting at the time, Detective Inspector Kevin McGuire, of Thames Valley Police, said:
“The gaming industry was suffering high losses due to the activities of organised criminal gangs such as these.
“Operation Sweepstake was launched by Thames Valley Police’s Major Crime team with a view to working together with the gaming industry to properly reflect the level of offending this gang were responsible for, and to bring them together in front of a court for a criminal conspiracy.”