‘Give me your money or I’ll take you to the moors and you’ll never be seen again’

Two “extremely greedy” loan sharks took advantage of vulnerable people “trapped in poverty” and left one with only £40 a month. Stephen Lee, 65, and Gary Karrucz, 47, were friends with two different men, who both had mental health conditions and lived in supported housing.

Both victims claimed benefits because they were unable to work because of their health. Working together, Lee and Karruch offered to lend the men money but charged an interest rate of over 100 percent.

The campaign of “abhorrent” money-lending escalated to such an extent that the two men lost control of their bank accounts, one of whom was so conned that they were left to survive on just £40 a month.

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Both Lee and Carrotch, of Radcliffe, pleaded guilty to theft, fraud, and illegal moneylending, and Carrotch pleaded separate offenses to supplying cannabis. Both were imprisoned on Thursday (24 November) at Minshull Street Crown Court.

Gary Karuch

Prosecutor Zoe Dawson said that in November 2018 the first victim moved into his support flat and a few weeks later met Karrutch, who offered to loan him £20 but said he had to pay back £40.

“It was 100% above the commercial rate,” said the attorney general. The victim immediately paid Karucz back once he got his benefits, but the next time Karucz lent him money, he also asked him to hand over his bank card.

Stephen Lee (left) and Gary Karroch (right) outside Minshull Street Crown Court

The court heard that the man did this because he felt afraid of Karruç and feared he would hurt him if he did not do what he said.

“He was intimidated by him for six months and continued to borrow money. He was once threatened with being taken to the moors and never seen again,” Ms. Dawson said.

Stephen Lee and Gary Karrotch were in an illegal money-lending business together. These were unregulated loans to vulnerable individuals who were charged exorbitant interest. They were acting like sharks.”

The court heard that Lee acted as a chauffeur and helped Karrutch raise the money. Over a period of six months, the men took between £4,000 and £5,000.

Towards the end of the month, he had “little money left” for the first victim. Lee and Karucz were both using the man’s bank account ‘as their own’ and kept pumping money in and out without his consent.

Another weak man, this time befriended by Lee, was heard by the court in September 2019. Lee lent him £20 and asked him to pay him back £30, also asking for his bank card and PIN.

Dawson said he was intimidated by Lee, who threatened kidnapping and assault. It added that he had only received £40 of his benefits per month, with the two defendants having “emptied” his bank account of £1,017 over a period of eight months.

The man later canceled his bank card, but Lee challenged this. He told Lee he was going to get a new card, and Lee led him to collect it from his bank, before taking it and telling him to withdraw £400 in cash.

In total, £7,816 was taken from the second victim.

Both men were arrested at their address in Radcliffe, and Carrotch responded to his warning: “Are you here because I lend money to the homeless?”

In the two men’s bedrooms, each had “debtors’ lists” containing the names, details, and money owed by their “customers”. Karucz was also found to have 18.5 grams of cannabis, and text messages from his phone showed he had supplied the drug to his sister before. Lee was found with 8.82 grams of cannabis.

Stephen Lee

Karrutch had previously been convicted of dishonesty, and Lee, who lost an arm in a terrible accident, had previous convictions for sex crimes.

Defending Carrows, Stuart Duke said, “These are vile insults. He expresses genuine remorse for these weak men.”

“These were hallmarks of bullying. He has a realistic prospect of rehab.”

As for Lee, Andrew Evans said his client met the second victim “by chance” and was not sought and targeted.

“This kind of insult is out of character.”

Judge John Potter said in the sentencing: “These offenses show your willingness to rob and defraud vulnerable people trapped in poverty.

“That was, to me, an abhorrent and cruel insult. The two of you have, over a long period of time, taken advantage of others for your own selfish needs, out of thousands of pounds.

“For people, in my opinion, who will hear of this kind of dishonest wrongdoing, will have nothing but disgust and disgust. You both engaged in this activity by stealing their bank cards from individuals and using them to evade their accounts from the few funds they had.

“This is extreme greed – the exploitation of poverty.”

Carrotch, of Exeter Road, was imprisoned for 31 months. Lee, also from Exeter Street, was jailed for 28 months.

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