A BENEFIT claimant who hid thousands of pounds in his house while acting as a loan shark to one of Wales’ poorest communities for around 20 years has been jailed.

Robert Gareth Sparey, aged 54, of Y Cilgant, Caerphilly, appeared at Cardiff Crown Court today.

The court heard that 116 victims had used Sparey’s services for money, and 32 customers had purchased counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco from him, the majority from Caerphilly’s Lansbury estate.

He previously pleaded guilty to unlicensed and unauthorised money lending, selling counterfeit items – namely tobacco and cigarettes, using criminal property to make a profit and perverting the course of justice, ranging between 1997 and 2017.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, Tim Evans, told the court that the exact figure lent by Sparey was unknown, but it was believed to be in the region of £285,000.

“To summarise, in a nut shell, his guilty pleas reflect firstly money laundered from a period of about 20 years,” said Mr Evans.

He added that when his house was searched, assets worth £43,000 were uncovered.

“He had £20,000 in cash, a caravan worth £18,000, two genuine Rolex watches worth £3,000 and gold worth £1,750 - £43,000 of assets,” he said.

The barrister told the court that on occasion, Sparey’s APR equivalent in terms of interest would have been more than 780 million per cent.

But in relation to two victims, Sparey sought county court judgements against them, claiming the money was lent between friends.

Mr Evans added that Sparey was known by the nickname of Del Boy, and said: “He used to brag that he could get them anything they want.”

Even after he was arrested and bailed, Sparey continued to collect debts owe to him, even though he was instructed not too.

“The defendant collected money after he had been arrested and bailed,” said Mr Evans, adding that Sparey then pressured and persuaded his victims not to talk about their arrangement to the investigators.

Mr Evans added that Sparey had 12 convictions across 15 offences, dating back to 1980.

Defending, Edward Mitchard told the court that Sparey had acting with good intentions on occasion, even if he acted illegally.

“There are two sides to Mr Sparey,” he said, adding that he had been referred to as a “good neighbour” and “a nice gentleman”.

He added: “He had a Littlewoods account allowing residents to purchase items. He never profited from that account.

“Around £65,000 went through that account. He never profited from it.”

Mr Mitchard added that the defence had received a number of positive personal references about Sparey, including from the former AM Lindsay Whittle.

The barrister added that Sparey had a number of health complaints, including diabetes, arthritis and stage four renal failure.

“He takes 20 medications per day, sometimes multiple times during the day,” said Mr Mitchard, adding that Sparey was at risk of heart attack due to increase creatinine in his blood.

Concluding, recorder Eleri Rees said Sparey preyed on members of the poorest and vulnerable communities in Wales, while claiming benefits, pretending to be penniless to the authorities and living in a council rented home.

Ms Rees said: “£20,000 in cash was found in your home when searched,” adding that Sparey was a “Jekyll and Hyde character".

Sparey was sentenced to three years and six months/42 months in prison – 12 months for unlicensed money lending up to 2011, 14 months consecutive for the unauthorised money lending, four months concurrent for selling counterfeit items and 16 months consecutive for perverting the course of justice.

He also received a sentence of three years and six months/42 months concurrent for the offence of using criminal property to make a profit.

He will spend half of his term in prison before being released on licence.