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 6 June, 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 eroes”authorization 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.