Fraudster jailed for pounds 2m scam; Widow finally brought to justice after 10-year spree.
Linda Clark swapped Newcastle for Florida after her partner, convicted Krugerrand smuggler Michael Jackson, walked out of an open prison to skip a jail sentence in 1986.
But after more than a decade of life as a fugitive, Jackson's eldest son, Paul, was killed in his girlfriend's apartment following a suspected drugs feud.
He was gunned down as an innocent victim of a bungled hold-up in 1997 after the family fled to Florida to fund a lavish lifestyle with their pager company.
As US detectives probed the murder, Jackson's history was unravelled and the couple returned to the UK where he finished his sentence before settling back on Tyneside.
It was there they launched the elaborate web of credit card, loan, and mortgage frauds that was to become their "business" and their living, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Posing as the wealthy vice-president of a phantom firm, Clark was able to secure a fortune in illicit finance from a string of leading high street lenders.
And although kingpin Jackson passed away in 2009 before he could be brought to justice, Clark, 57, has at last paid the price for more than a decade of dishonesty. Jailing her for two and a half years, Recorder Graeme Hyland said: "It was fraudulent from the outset, careful steps were taken to cover your tracks, and it lasted for over a decade."
Rec Hyland said he accepted Clark had been locked in a troubled marriage with "mean and controlling" Jackson - an older man who wooed her when she was only 17.
But he added: "You realistically recognise that there has to be a custodial sentence."
Clark, formerly of North Tyneside but later living in Ross Street, Sunderland, admitted two charges of conspiracy to defraud and another of transferring criminal property. Her surviving son Philip Clark, 30, of Jefferson Place, Newcastle, received a 12-month jail term suspended for two years with 250 hours' unpaid work.
Rec Hyland said: "It is accepted the mother is essentially responsible for bringing him into this without him knowing the full extent of the frauds."
Jackson's friend Walter Rourke, 59, of Dibley Street, Byker, was locked up for a year. He admitted a single conspiracy charge but Rec Hyland said he was satisfied Rourke had been acting under Jackson's orders.
Today Det Cons Andy Smith, of Newcastle East Neighbourhood CID, who was praised in court for "almost single-handedly" unravelling the fraud, said those involved ploughed their crooked cash into a lavish lifestyle.
He said: "The fraud was carried out over a period of around 10 years and involved making fraudulent applications for credit cards, loans and mortgages to financial institutions. "Their actions have led to banks losing over pounds 400,000 and the offenders were motivated by the prospect of living a comfortable lifestyle for a lengthy period through fraud and dishonesty."
Timeline of trouble...
1986: Convicted Krugerrand smuggler Michael Jackson walks free from an open prison.
With his wife, Linda Clark, and two children, Paul and Philip, they flee Tyneside for Florida.
1997: After more than a decade on the run, the Clark family are struck by tragedy. Paul, the eldest of the two sons, is gunned down in his girlfriend's apartment.
Jackson and his family return to the UK where he finishes his prison stint.
2000: Jackson suffers a stroke and his health deteriorates. It's claimed his behaviour worsens and he becomes a bully.
2009: Jackson, described as "mean and controlling", passes away before police can charge him over the offences. Police arrest the gang, during which time Linda Clark admits the fraud had become "hard work" to continue.
2012: Linda Clark and Jackson's friend Walter Rourke are locked up for their part in the multi-million pound scam. Philip Clark, the youngest son, is given a suspended jail sentence.
How con brought in the money CREDIT of up to pounds 250,000 a time was paid out by finance houses tricked under a mountain of fake pay slips, national insurance numbers, and job details. Properties across North Tyneside and County Durham were bought with illegally-obtained loans and sometimes "sold on" in organised transactions among the fraudsters to generate more loans.
Rourke at one stage was given a new identity in the name of "Jones" - complete with passport and driving licence - to give the deception new impetus. The gang paid themselves "salaries" from the frauds, often kept up interest payments so the scam went undetected, and were even able to pay pounds 163,000 cash for one property.
Later, they bought a former bar called Scotty's in Wingate, Co Durham, for pounds 42,000. And by the time they were arrested in 2009 after Rourke was rumbled running his own benefit fiddle, Clark confessed the task had become "hard work".
James Adkin, defending, said Clark had suffered badly at Jackson's hands. He told the court: "It's apparent he married this defendant when she was but 17 and, whatever allurements he offered, it became clear he was a mean and controlling figure. After he suffered a stroke in 2000, his behaviour became worse. He was a bully."
The violent death of Paul in America was also a blow that Clark struggled to overcome, the court heard. "She basically turned off her conscience for the sake of an easy life," Mr Adkin said.
All three defendants were barred from running any company for 10 years under disqualification orders.
CRIMINALS Walter Rourke and Linda Clark