A bogus “Help for Heroes” collector faces jail after he pocketed hundreds of pounds by posing in military uniform and pretending to be a serving soldier, a court heard.
David Santini, 55, was caught collecting cash from the unsuspecting public at a 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, from south Lincolnshire, 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 in Ingoldmells, 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 veterans’ charity.
Edna Leonard, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court that there was an element of “planning” to Santini’s crimes.
“He was in military uniform and backed that up with various stories, going to various events with ‘Help for Heroes’ banners,” Miss Leonard said.
“All though there are only three victims in the charges, in relation to members of the public we will never know how many.”
Miss Leonard said the offences first came to light in 2014 when Santini was “pretending to be a serving soldier and official collector for the ‘Help for Heroes’ charity.”
“He was in the army but was discharged in 1983,” she told the court.
Santini came to the attention of police who were patrolling an antiques fair at Newark Showground on June 6, 2014.
Miss Leonard 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 £750.
“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.
“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 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.
Miss Leonard said over the ten week period Santini was given free rent of £1,500.
She added: “£791 was collected over that period in relation to the buckets in the bars. How much money the paintball stall made is very difficult to estimate, but the prosecution except about £2,000.”
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,” Miss Leonard 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-a-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.
Diane Mundill, mitgating, 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.”
Judge Simon Hirst adjourned the case until November for further evidence to be called to establish the exact sum of money Santini had benefitted from.
Santini, of North Drove, Quadring, has pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud between June and October, 2014, and a charge of theft from Mrs Taylor.
He was granted bail until his next court appearance.