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'easy prey' Belfast taxi driver who stole £26,800 from over 50 drunk passengers is jailed

Gareth Taggart claimed that after racking up gambling debts, he borrowed money from paramilitary loan sharks

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A taxi driver who fleeced bank cards from drunk passengers which were then used to withdraw money from their bank accounts has been jailed for the "outrageous 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 spanning from February 2018 to July 2019, Taggart targeted drunk passengers by watching what PIN number they used to pay their taxi fare.

He failed to give the drunk customers their cards back from the reader in his car, then used their PIN numbers to withdraw cash 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 made the case that he was acting under duress.

He claimed that after racking up gambling debts, he borrowed money from paramilitary loan sharks who instructed him to carry out the fraud to pay off his debt to them.

The father-of-two, from York Park in Belfast, also claimed that a majority of the time he simply handed the stolen bank card over to 'a third party' who then withdrew 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 intoxicated and vulnerable people, and therefore easy prey."

Before sentence was passed, Judge Greene was told Taggart was arrested after police launched an investigation regarding the loss of bank cards, and the subsequent unauthorised withdrawals from a limited number of ATMs in Belfast.

All of those affected had one thing in common – they had been out in Belfast drinking and socialising – and whilst some remembered getting a taxi home, others could not recall how they got home.

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The matter was investigated and police identified Taggart, who at the time worked as a taxi driver, as a possible suspect.

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

Whilst some of the banks have reimbursed those involved, others who were the victims of Taggart's fraud remain out of pocket.

Defence barrister John O'Connor said his client maintained he was acting under duress by those who he owed money to due to gambling debts.

Citing his client as a man of previous good character and one with a clear criminal record, Mr O'Connor said Taggart still owes £8,000 to the loan sharks and has "lost everything" due to his offending.

The defence barrister added Taggart has since displayed genuine remorse and regret, and has secured employment in a call centre so he could obtain money to pay back those affected by his criminality.

Sending Taggart to jail, Judge Greene spoke of the large number of victims who he said were "deliberately targeted" due to their intoxication.

The judge also spoke of the abuse of position of trust as Taggart was supposed to ensure those in his taxi got home safety, but instead "he fleeced them."

The 14-month term imposed was divided between seven months in prison followed by seven months on licence when he is released from custody.

After passing sentence on Taggart, Judge Greene addressed the prison staff and told them "take him down."

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