Belfast taxi driver who stole bank cards from drunk passengers jailed

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A taxi driver who stole bank cards from drunken passengers before using them to ‘swindle’ his victims out of almost £27,000 was jailed today for ‘scandalous fraud’.

As he imposed a 14-month sentence on Gareth Taggart at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Richard Greene QC revealed the 32-year-old used the same modus operandi against more than 50 passengers.

Over a period from February 2018 to July 2019, Taggart targeted drunk passengers by monitoring the PIN code they used to pay for their taxi fare.

He did not return drunken customers their cards from his car reader and then used their PINs to withdraw money from their bank accounts.

Taggart repeated this process 60 times against around 50 passengers and netted just under £26,800 from the fraud.

When he was arrested in July 2019, Taggart claimed he was acting under duress.

He claimed that after running up gambling debts, he borrowed money from paramilitary loan sharks who asked him to commit the fraud to pay off his debt to them.

The father-of-two, from York Park in Belfast, also claimed that most of the time he simply hands over the stolen bank card to “a third party” who then withdraws money from the various accounts.

This version of events was rejected by both the PSNI and Judge Greene. As he sent Taggart to jail, the judge cited greed as the motivation and said, “All were drunk and vulnerable, and therefore easy prey.”

Before sentencing, Judge Greene was told that Taggart had been arrested after police launched an investigation into the loss of bank cards and subsequent unauthorized withdrawals from a limited number of ATMs in Belfast.

All those involved had one thing in common – they had been out in Belfast to drink and socialize – and while some could remember taking a taxi home, others could not remember how they got home .

The case was investigated and police identified Taggart, who was working as a taxi driver at the time, as a potential suspect.

He was arrested on July 14, 2019 at one of the ATMs used in the fraud and when apprehended was in possession of four bank cards and £1,000 in cash.

While some banks have reimbursed those involved, others who fell victim to the Taggart fraud remain out of pocket.

Defense lawyer John O’Connor said his client argued he was acting under duress from those to whom he owed money due to gambling debts.

Quoting his client as a man of good character and with a clean criminal record, Mr O’Connor said Taggart still owed £8,000 to the loan sharks and had “lost everything” as a result of his breach.

The defense attorney added that Taggart has since shown genuine remorse and regret, and got a job at a call center so he could get money to reimburse those affected by his crime.

Sending Taggart to jail, Judge Greene referred to the large number of victims he said were “deliberately targeted” because of their drunkenness.

The judge also spoke of abuse of a position of trust as Taggart was supposed to make sure the people in his cab got home safely, but instead “he ripped them off”.

The 14-month sentence imposed was divided between seven months in prison followed by seven months of license on his release from police custody.

After handing down Taggart’s sentence, Judge Greene addressed prison staff and told them to “get him down”.

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