A Wirral-based man has been sentenced to four years imprisonment for making and selling illegally copied games, films and music, following an investigation by Wirral Trading Standards and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Gordon Cullen, 46, of Greenbank Road, West Kirby, Wirral who regularly travelled first class to Thailand also pleaded guilty at Mold Crown Court, North Wales, on Thursday 6th March, to having claimed nearly GBP 69,000 in Income Support and other benefits while living a life of luxury.
Lengthy surveillance, including several test purchases, were carried out by ELSPA (the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association), film and music investigators at Coed Mawr market in Flintshire where Cullen and his daughter, Pauline, 25, of Beechwood, Wirral, ran stalls under a large banner headed ‘The DVD man – for all your top quality DVDs at rock bottom prices’.
The Cullen’s were charging GBP 5 each with discounted prices of three for GBP 10 or seven for GBP 20. All of the games and DVDs and sold were illegal copies.
In October 2006 a series of coordinated raids, codenamed ‘Operation Buzzard’ – involving ELSPA investigators, Trading Standards Officers from Wirral and Flintshire Councils, DWP investigators and representatives of the music industry – took place throughout North Wales, Cheshire and Wirral designed to disrupt the supply of counterfeit goods and detect organised benefit fraud. Both of the Cullen’s homes were raided by Trading Standards and Merseyside Police. Equipment used in the manufacture of illegally copied games and films and large quantities of counterfeit goods, together with financial evidence, was seized.
As well as receiving 32 months for counterfeiting offences Cullen was also sentenced to 16 months for benefit fraud. Additionally, following a lengthy financial investigation by the Regional Asset Recovery Team, Judge Hughes also imposed a GBP 190,000 confiscation order against Gordon Cullen based on his illegal profits. If he fails to pay this sum in six months he will be sentenced to a further three years in prison.
Pauline Cullen was sentenced to eight months imprisonment suspended for 18 months and ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work to be completed in 18 months.
Michael Rawlinson, managing director of ELSPA, commented: ELSPA would like to thank everyone involved with Operation Buzzard for their work and helping to protect local traders and the general community from the effects of pirated goods. Our investigators will continue to work closely with other trade bodies and enforcement agencies. The simple fact about piracy of video games, music and films is that it is illegal and punishable by fines, Community Service and jail sentences. No matter which way you look at counterfeiting it is nothing more than theft. Counterfeiters are only out for one thing: money. And because of this consumers who buy counterfeit games have no recourse under law for faulty goods.
Cllr Gill Gardiner, Wirral’s Cabinet member for the Environment, said: This was a lengthy and protracted investigation involving Wirral Trading Standards and the Department of Work and Pensions. This sentence reflects the damage the Cullen’s activities caused to legitimate traders in DVDs and computer games. However we aren’t resting on our laurels and are targeting more of this illegal activity.
Roy Paul, Senior Operations Manager for Merseyside & Cheshire Trading Standards, said: This was a most complex and thorough investigation which involved not only highly trained DWP fraud investigators, colleagues from Trading Standards but officers from the Music, Films and Games industry. If you suspect fraud, I would urge you to call the National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440.