Fraudsters who illegally sold on access to Premier League football coverage have been jailed following a joint investigation by Surrey Police and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
Simon Hopkins and Leon Passlow were sentenced at Guildford Crown Court on August 19th having earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud between January 2008 and September 2012, in a prosecution by the Football Association Premier League (FAPL).
Specialist officers from the Force’s Economic Crime Unit and FACT worked together to uncover the scam which defrauded broadcaster Sky which has the majority of the rights to the coverage of the Premier League competition which is run by the FAPL.
The fraud represented a loss of earnings to Sky of £591,000.
Hopkins and Passlow ran a company in Bagshot in the southeast of England which obtained hundreds of domestic-use only Sky cards, using hundreds of fake names, and long addresses in an attempt for their scam to go unnoticed.
Those cards were then sold on to commercial premises, including pubs, betting shops and yachts.
Although the companies paid a large one-off premium for the cards, they made huge savings on their monthly fees in the long run. They were also under strict instructions not to contact Sky directly or they would face having subscription cancelled.
The investigation started in May 2012 following complaints made to the FAPL from broadcasters and members of the public about the company – Digicam International Ltd (DIL) – who were also advertising their services on the Internet.
DIL’s website and paperwork given to subscribers carried warning messages not to contact the broadcaster directly or it would ‘kill your subscription’.
The defendants’ homes were searched in September 2012 where payslips and paperwork was found that showed DIL had a turnover of almost £2 million a year. The company based in High Street, Bagshot was also searched and had signs on the walls warning that legal action would be taken against anybody associated with the FAPL or FACT entering the property.
Detective Sergeant Chris Rambour from Surrey Police’s Economic Crime Unit said: “This was a complex investigation which involved working closely with our partners to see that these criminals were put behind bars. This was a carefully planned and executed operation which has required some painstaking investigation by our officers and partners. I hope this demonstrates our determination and reassures the public that we will leave no stone unturned to put offenders before the courts. We will now be pursuing further action under the Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate any assets acquired by the defendants as a result of these offences,” he confirmed.
A Premier League Spokesman said: “A three and a half year custodial sentence sends a clear message: supplying systems which enable unauthorised broadcasts of Premier League football to be made in commercial premises is illegal. The supplier in this case – Digicams – was fraudulently selling cards intended for home use to commercial premises to enable unauthorised broadcasts of Premier League football. This judgement serves as a reminder to the pub industry, and other businesses which show live football, that Sky Sports and BT Sport are the only authorised broadcasters of live Premier League football in the UK. We would like to thank Surrey Police’s Economic Crime Unit, and FACT, as their skilled investigation made the successful prosecution of this complex and large scale fraud possible.”
Hopkins, 47, of Park Road, Stoke Poges, Slough, Berkshire and Passlow 58, of Broomfield Drive, Ascot, Berkshire were both sentenced to three and a half years each.