A fraudster who made an estimated £50,000 selling clothes from bogus charity bag collections has been jailed for 13 months.
Darius Kaminskas, 25, a Lithuanian national who was living in Bristol, replicated donation bags from genuine charities, including bags bearing the name "Bernhardos", and distributed them across the west country, the West Midlands and parts of Wales.
He was sentenced yesterday at Bristol Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraudulent trading at an earlier hearing. He was also disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
The con was investigated by the South West Scambusters Team, a government-funded trading standards team.
It found that between March and December 2010, Kaminskas used charity collection bags designed to look like those used by legitimate charities to collect clothing door to door from people who thought they were giving to good causes.Kaminskas set up a business called Sparco, which originally distributed bags emblazoned with the words "breast cancer" and the pink ribbon awareness symbol. He went on to use bags bearing the word "Bernhardos", based on the Barnardo’s logo.
The charity alerted trading standards officers after receiving complaints from members of the public who were concerned that the bag was misleading or who had donated to Sparco thinking they were giving to Barnardo’s.
Scambusters said that when he was challenged over the Bernhardos name, Kaminskas claimed that it was the translated name of a church in Lithuania, to which he had made donations.
Evidence obtained in Lithuania showed that the claim was untrue, a statement from Scambusters said.
Stephen Meale, who heads the South West Scambusters Team, said the first bags were almost identical to those being distributed by a company called Intersecond, which legitimately collects clothes for a Lithuanian cancer charity called Azzara. He stopped using them after the company’s lawyers took action against him.
Meale estimated that Kaminskas made more than £50,000 selling clothing from the collections to wholesalers in Lithuania. Based on evidence collected by the team, Meale reckoned Kaminskas received about 50p per kilo.
"Bogus charity collections have become a big problem over the past few years because the market in second-hand clothes, particularly in eastern Europe, has become a massive source of income for charities," Meale said. "But it has become subject to abuse both from the theft of charity bags and people using bogus bags.
"The cynical and fraudulent use of bags falsely claiming to be collecting on behalf of charities is not only abusing people’s goodwill and depriving charities of income intended for them to carry out their work, but will also erode people’s confidence in this significant means of fundraising."