Wigan mastermind behind the handling of £1m worth of stolen plant machinery is jailed
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Max Wynn is one of seven men who admitted to or were convicted of involvement in the handling and sale of the equipment whose value totalled more than £1m, police describing the plot as one of “staggering audacity”.
The 34-year-old of Plymouth Grove, Standish, had initially denied handling stolen goods, entering into a money laundering arrangement and converting criminal property, but later changed his pleas to guilty.
The plant machines were stolen mainly from across the North West between 2015 and 2018, and were then sold on to a gang who operated out of an industrial unit in Nelson, where they were modified to hide their original identification numbers.
The gang in Nelson then sold the machines on to buyers across Europe, and in some cases as far away as Australia.
The machines were valued between £8,000 and £105,000 each, with the total value thought to be approximately £1.3m.
Those who went on to purchase the machines believed they were buying from legitimate businesses and only became aware they had bought stolen goods when the equipment was seized as part of the police investigation.
Two buyers lost multiple machines each and in victim impact statements described how they suffered significant financial losses and anxiety about the loss of their professional reputations.
The members of the gang each played different roles, but all appeared at Preston Crown Court this week to be sentenced. In the dock as well as Max Wynn was his 47-year-old brother Richard Wynn, of Ravenoak Lane, Burnley who also received eight and a half years in prison for conspiracy to handle stolen goods after being found guilty by a jury.
Alex Grice, 33, of Brunshaw Road, Burnley, received five years and 11 months in jail after admitting to handling stolen goods.
There were four other men dealt with by the court for lesser parts in the operation:
Karl Langley, 44, of Nelson Road, Burnley got two years in prison, suspended for 18 months, after admitting to three counts of handling stolen goods;
Craig Douglas, 41, received 18 months in prison, suspended for 18 months after admitting to handling stolen goods;
Gavin Mellor, 53, of Hope Street, Burnley, was given a a two-year custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months, having initially denied money laundering but later changing his plea.
Ian Mellor, 72, of Clwyd Street, Ruthin, was handed a 10-month jail term, suspended for 18 months after admitting to money laundering.
The investigation was launched after a victim, who had a digger stolen from him, noticed that an identical vehicle was being sold from the unit in Nelson. Officers attended the unit and although the digger had been moved on, they found Max Wynn and Alex Grice in the act of cloning another stolen machine.
The stolen digger was later tracked down with another two stolen vehicles in the Clayton-le-Moors area.
The court heard Max Wynn was the “driving force” behind the operation. He was the director of the company that bought and sold on the stolen machines and his name was on the lease of the industrial unit in Nelson.
This is where the work was carried out to get rid of any identification numbers on the stolen machines.
In total Wynn is believed to have been connected to the handling and sale of all 46 machines.
The money from the sales was then laundered, being transferred to his friends, family and associates. He also spent some of it on himself and used it to buy further stolen items.
Paperwork revealed that he charged all of his customers VAT but never submitted a tax return, instead pocketing the extra money himself.
Langley was closely connected to Max Wynn, as shown by phone records and his frequent visits to the industrial unit in Nelson. The value of machines he is thought to have been involved with totals £50,000.
Grice had a variety of roles in the conspiracy and was a highly-trusted employee of Max Wynn. He received a fee or commission for every machine he helped to hide the identity of.
Richard Wynn was frequently hands-on with the operation: transporting and delivering machines to customers. He sometimes dealt with prospective purchasers and helped facilitate the money laundering part of the operation.
Douglas was a “handler” for the sale of one specific machine, valued at around £80,000. He carried out work on it to try and make the sale appear more legitimate, by removing livery from it and replacing it with his own.
Gavin Mellor assisted Max Wynn with the purchase of companies which were used to make the sale of machines appear more legitimate.
The money laundering aspect of the operation was described in court as being “sophisticated”, with significant planning, with the laundering conducted over a long period of time.
His father Ian Mellor also laundered money from stolen machines with the express purpose of giving large amounts of cash back to Max Wynn.
The prosecution said it was clear that Mellor Snr was aware of the purpose of the operation from the outset, given that his online banking payment references contained the identity of stolen machines.
He also laundered money through a convoluted layer of “shell” companies. While the companies he used appeared legitimate, they carried out no or minimal trade, while providing an excellent cover for the laundering process.
One of the men who bought several of the stolen machines, believing he was buying from a legitimate company, said: “I have been trading in the plant/machinery business for over 20 years and my business has been built on trust and goodwill.
"Immediately on receiving the information from the police I have felt like my good name has been tarnished, and helpless to do anything about it.”
He added that he has been worried about financial difficulties, saying: “I have lost confidence in doing business, worrying how other businesses now view me.”
PC Neil Goodison, of Lancashire Police, said: “We linked the high-value thefts of plant machinery to Max Wynn, and our investigation then led us to the other six men, and the industrial unit in Nelson.
“In total we uncovered a conspiracy involving more than a million pounds worth of equipment, which was stolen from innocent victims and – via Max Wynn and his gang – then modified to hide its identification and sold on to further innocent victims.
“The group’s audacity was staggering, with stolen machinery sold on to unsuspecting buyers locally and as far away as Spain, Sweden and even Australia.
“We welcome these sentences and hope they serve as a warning that we take criminal activity like this very seriously. We will not stand for our rural communities being targeted in this way, leaving innocent people suffering financially and mentally.”