A cunning crook who took the lead role in an audacious fraud which targeted top Lakes hotels, shops and restaurants has been handed an immediate 20-month jail term.
Sonia Malhi, 39, duped businesses during January last year by using stolen receipts from card terminal transactions made by innocent members of the public whose accounts were also attacked.
Partners in crime were said to have used devious distraction techniques which allowed Malhi to covertly enter card numbers manually and pay for rooms at luxury hotels, splash out on champagne and wrongly obtain refunds.
During a spree lasting several days, Malhi was at the forefront as frauds and attempted frauds amounting to almost £14,000 were committed in Keswick and the surrounding area, West Cumbria and Kendal.
She visited a number of outlets simply to steal receipts which were then used as illegal activity continued.
One hotel received a call from a female asking for “the best rooms available for as long as possible”.
Carlisle Crown Court heard today how Malhi occupied a lesser distractor and driving role when copycat crimes running into thousands of pounds were committed in Cheshire several weeks before her journey to Cumbria.
This was a small part of larger scale offending across the North West, Yorkshire and Leicestershire.
“She is the leader of a group,” prosecutor Tim Evans said of Malhi’s crimes in Cumbria.
“She is the one who has brought the methodology from her activities further south.
“This is a sophisticated style of operation that really can be taken off the peg, of Cheshire or Merseyside, and used in Cumbria as it was.”
After suspicions were raised and traders were alerted to suspicious activity, Malhi was arrested in Kendal on January 26, 2020.
She later admitted two counts of conspiracy to defraud, plus theft and illegal possession of cocaine and a knuckleduster arising out of a shoplifting spree in Cheshire during December, 2019.
Hearing that Malhi, a mother, of Hobson Crescent, Audenshaw, Manchester, had more than 100 previous offences to her name, and served eight months in custody on remand, Recorder Eric Lamb imposed a 20-month jail term.
Recorder Lamb told her: “The sheer persistence of your involvement was demonstrated perhaps best by the way in which the proprietors of the (Kendal hotel), when they realised what was taking place, made contact with their fellow tradespeople in the area and discovered the awful truth of what was going on with you… in order to carry out this deception.”