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), of North Drove, Quadring, was caught collecting cash from the unsuspecting public at a Newark antiques fair after police became suspicious about the style of his uniform.
Santini claimed he “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.
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 patrolling an antiques fair in Newark.
Miss Leonard said: “They spoke to him and at that time he said he had just got back from Afghanistan.
“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 RAF.”
It was then heard he couldn’t produce an Armed Forces identity card.
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 Heroes authorisation 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 a go and Santini put collection 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.
She added: “£791 was collected over that period in relation to the buckets in the bars. How much money the paintball stall made is very difficult to estimate, but the prosecution expect about £2,000.”
The court heard Santini also befriended Patricia Taylor, a widow in her 70s who suffered with early Alzheimer’s, and pocketed £2,000 which she wanted to donate to a separate Lincolnshire based charity called Help for our local Heroes and Veterans.
Judge Simon Hirst adjourned the case until November for further evidence to be called to establish the exact sum of money Santini had benefitted from.
Santini has pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud.