AN internet entrepreneur who failed to pay almost £180,000 in tax has been jailed for two years.
John Woolfenden sold CDs, DVDs and games via websites including Ebay and Play.com over a seven-year period, generating a turnover of nearly £1.5 million.
But Bolton Crown Court heard that during that period he failed to register to pay any VAT for his online business — Globalworldentertain ments — and did not declare his self-employed status or sales in order to avoid paying income tax.
The court heard that during his seven years of trading, the fraudster had filled out just one tax return, for about £3,000, and had even failed to pay that.
The 52-year-old was also found to have laundered about £120,000-worth of the fraudulent funds by transferring them to an American bank account owned by his friend, Colin Gowing.
Woolfenden claimed he had not realised this transfer would be classed as money laundering.
Darren Thomas, prosecuting, told the court the businessman had started his company by operating out of the boot of a car, before renting three stalls at Radcliffe Market, from where he sold DVDs and CDs.
In 2006, he began selling his stock online and the business quickly became successful, with between 50 and 60 items being sold per day.
In total, the business listed 520,000 items on Ebay and Woolfenden opened business premises in Rossendale, employing several members of staff.
The large-scale fraud was discovered as part of an HMRC campaign to tackle undeclared tax and income from online trading.
When HMRC officers raided his home in May last year, they found all the signs of a busy online trader, with huge stocks of DVDs, CDs and games — even the shower was stacked to the ceiling with boxes.
Sentencing Woolfenden to two years in prison, Judge Timothy Stead said: “It is hard to look past the fact that this was carried out over a very significant period of time.”
At an earlier hearing, Woolfenden, of Grosvener Street, Radcliffe, pleaded guilty to one count of failing to declare monies from online trading and another count of failing to register and account for VAT.
He also admitted one count of concealing, disguising, converting, transferring or removing criminal property, by means of bank and cheque.