A bogus “Help for Heroes” collector who pocketed thousands of pounds by posing in military uniform and pretending to be a serving soldier has been jailed for 15 months.
David Santini, 55, from Quadring, was caught collecting cash from the unsuspecting people at Newark antiques fair after police became suspicious about the style of his uniform.
The convicted fraudster claimed to have “just got back from Afghanistan” when he was challenged about his charity work, a court heard.
But Santini could not produce an armed forces identity card and it was later discovered that he had not been a soldier since 1983 when he was given a “dishonourable discharge.”
Further investigations revealed Santini had also placed collecting buckets in pubs near a paintball stall which he was given rent free on another site near Skegness.
And the former burglar was found to have taken £2,000 from a widow in her 70s with Alzheimer’s who believed the money was going to a local Help for Heroes charity.
Passing sentence Judge Simon Hirst told Santini it was agreed that he had made a benefit of £6,806.16 by posing as a legitimate collector for Help for Heroes.
Judge Hirst said: “On June 6, 2014 police in course of a routine patrol at Newark antiques fair saw you collecting in a bucket for Help for Heroes.
“You told the police that you had just returned from Afghanistan and that this was your punishment after getting in to some bother with some paratroopers, and that you were staying at RAF Waddington.
“Both of those things were lies.”
Lincoln Crown Court heard there was an element of “planning” to Santini’s crimes.
Siward James-Moore, prosecuting, said: “There was the uniform and various items which he used to give the impression he worked for the charity.
“People were distressed when they discovered he was not who he said he was.”
The court heard Santini came to the attention of police who were patrolling an antiques fair at Newark showground in June 2014.
Mr Moore said: “They spoke to him and at that time he said he had just got back from Afghanistan and had got in to some bother with some Paras, and this was his punishment.
“He said the public had been very generous and the previous day he had collected £757.
“He claimed he was staying at RAF Waddington and as the police officers spoke to him members of the public were putting money in a red bucket.
“One of the officers became suspicious of the uniform he was wearing as it was part Royal Marine, and part Royal Airforce.
“There were also suspicions from another stallholder who said Santini could not talk about his regiment.
“He was asked for his armed forces identity card. At that point he said he didn’t have one and tried to say that he hadn’t said he was in the forces, but had been in the past.”
When police searched the transit van Santini was living in at the time £269.52 was found in the glove compartment, the court was told.
Officers also recovered £222.14 from the red bucket and £26.50 from a charity box.
During police interview Santini claimed to have “Help for Heroes” authorisation in the name of a prison officer friend and described the remark about Afghanistan as “bravado.”
A month after the Newark incident Santini was given a rent free pitch for his paintball range to raise money for Help for Heroes after claiming that he was about to retire from the Army, the court was told.
Customers were charged £3 ago and Santini also put collecting buckets in bars surrounding the stall at Ingoldmells, near Skegness.
Over the ten week period £791 was put in the collecting tins. Santini was also given free rent of £1,500 and made £2,970 from his paintball stall.
The court heard Santini also befriended Patricia Taylor, a widow in her 70s who suffered with early Alzheimer’s, and pocketed £2,000 which she wanted to donate to a separate Lincolnshire based charity called ‘Help for our local Heroes and Veterans.’
“Mrs Taylor said to her son in 2014 that she gave £200 to a man called Dave,” Mr Moore told the court. “The son later learnt it was £2,000.
“There has been a high impact on Mrs Taylor.”
The court heard Santini has a string of previous convictions for dishonesty beginning in 1978 when he was convicted of burglary as a juvenile.
He received a suspended sentence for burglary in 1983 and in January 2000 was jailed for two and half years at Bradford Crown Court for five offences of theft and deception where he targeted vulnerable women and pretended to be a serving soldier.
On one occasion Santini claimed he needed money to buy himself out of the Army and flee country, and on another Santini said he needed cash to give to fellow soldiers.
Diane Mundill, mitigating, told the court all the cash collected at Newark was in the possession of the police and Mrs Taylor’s money had been paid back to her.
Miss Mundill said there were also receipts to show Santini had paid £970 to the ‘Help our local Heroes and Veterans’ charity.’
She added: “He has been living in a mobile home for a number of years, he fully understands he will not be going back there.”
Jailing Santini, Judge Hirst told him that his offences were aggravated by his previous convictions and the age of Mrs Taylor.
The judge said: “You are a man with a history of using people’s affection for the armed forces to assist your dishonesty.”
Santini, of North Drove, Quadring, pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud between June and October 2014, and a charge of theft from Mrs Taylor.