Corrupt Hampstead safe deposit boss jailed

A GOLDERS Green businessman who built up the biggest safe depository firm in Britain by storing illicit goods for drug dealers, murderers and paedophiles has been jailed.

Milton Woolf, the director of Safe Deposit Centres Ltd (SDC), was sentenced today to four and half years in prison after admitting to a total of 14 offences, including money laundering and possession of a firearm.

Another of the company’s bosses, Jacqueline Swan, 47, was handed a year-long jail term after pleading guilty to seven counts of failing to inform the authorities of money laundering activities.

Driven by his greed for profits, Woolf “closed his eyes” to criminals who hired out his safe deposit boxes to stash child porn, firearms, illegal cash, gems and fake passports, Southwark Crown Court heard.

The 55-year-old – a respected member of north London’s Jewish community - boosted takings by charging gangsters a premium rate of up to �70,000 a time to rent space at his safe depository.

Described of the “controlling figure” at SDC, he funded a luxury lifestyle, driving a Porshe and living in a million pound house in West Heath Drive, Golders Green.

He has since moved with his wife to a mansion block in Oslo Court, St John’s Wood.

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When Met Police officers stormed SDC’s three high security vaults in Hampstead, Edgware and Park Lane in 2008, they found a staggering �500million in assets.

Woolf and his fellow director Swan, of Hexham Road, Barnet, even advised their dodgy clients on how to avoid detection when concealing their ‘dirty’ money and contraband.

In one instance, Woolf delayed reporting a murder weapon to police he discovered in an unclaimed deposit box while he squirrelled away thousands of pounds contained with it, Southwark Crown Court heard on Thursday.

The box belonged to Christopher Green, who hid the revolver, a large amount of cash and a balaclava at the Hampstead depository the day after he committed a killing.

In another search of SDC’s Park Lane branch, detectives found a collection of sickening sexual images of children belonging to sex shop owner Michael Geraghty.

Michael Holland QC, prosecuting, said: “The directors wanted to try to adopt a three wise monkeys approach - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil - rather than be vigilant to report suspicious activity as they were obliged to.”

Mr Holland argued that Woolf knew his “systems” allowed criminals to use his firm to store their ill-gotten gains.

He said that the South African-born director was so keen to see his business succeed he was willing to turn a blind-eye to wrong doing in order to rent more boxes.

And on a number of occasions when clients stopped paying their fees, both Woolf and Swan would drill open the boxes and take the money inside.

“His only concern seemed to have been to make profits, which included his converting or stealing money which he must have know was the proceeds of crime,” Mr Holland said.

Woolf and Swan were first arrested, along with a third former director of SDC Leslie Sieff, on June 2, 2008, after the Met carried out an unprecedented raid on their premises.

More than 500 officers simultaneously descended on the firm’s three branches as part of a �10million money laundering investigation code-named Operation Rize.

During a two years surveillance mission, Scotland Yard set their sights on the depositories after receiving tip offs that criminals were using them to store their proceeds of crime.

Det Supt Mark Ponting said it was established very early on in the investigation that the firm was offering customers an anonymous, no questions asked service.

“By offering this service they were cornering the market and increasing their profits by increasing the number of criminals that were using it,” he said.

In the two weeks following the raid 60 officers worked round the clock to cut open almost 6,717 deposit boxes, of which 3,500 were investigated.

As a result of the investigation, police uncovered drugs, forged passports, elephant tusks worth �40,000, precious jewellery and valuable paintings.

According to Det Supt Ponting, Rize has disrupted the activities of 32 organised crime gangs, led to 146 arrest and 30 convictions.

He also revealed that �12.5million had been returned to the public coffers from the money seized in Operation Rize, with more than �12million still going through the courts.

Det Supt Ponting said: “The disruption this operation has caused to organised criminal networks has been significant - impacting upon the illegal activities of international jewellery thieves, money launderers, drugs dealers, human traffickers and those trading in child pornography.

“There are two clear messages from today. First, that the Met is, and remains, determined to tackle serious and organised crime at all levels - and that includes those who act more subtly in the background but who are often the key facilitators for those who commit serious crime.”

Sieff, 63, of Ranulf Road, West Hampstead, has already been fined �1,000 for possessing counterfeit 60,000 US dollars last December.