FRAUD gang leader checked in to a Darlington hotel where he ordered champagne and dinner after targeting rural homes to intercept their post and steal identities.

The five men stole post and got hold of personal details so they could then obtain “numerous” credit cards.

It is estimated that the gang obtained a total of around £165 000 in 2018, which was uses on expensive shopping trips in Newcastle and the Metrocentre.

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The five men, some of whom are refugees from Zimbabwe, have now appeared at Durham Crown Court to be sentenced for fraud conspiracy.

Raphael Munemo, 33, was said to be the leader, and booked a stay at Headlam Hall Hotel, near Darlington, under a false name where he ordered champagne and dinner, the court heard.

He made shopping trips to Birmingham, Newcastle and the Metrocentre and obtained around £105,000 credit – £23,928 of which was used.

He was sentenced alongside Tendai Dlamini, 41, Gray Gwewo, 26, Vincent Zhanje-Zwouche, 31, and Tacu Ndhlovu, 27.

Paul Abrahams, prosecuting, said the men were caught as part of an investigation led by the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU).

The gang “deliberately targeted” rural addresses in York, County Durham and Carlton, near Stockton, where the post boxes were located away from the homes and on main roads.

Their post was then intercepted by the gang and credit was then applied for using their personal details.

After that, victims’ accounts would be “taken over”.

Abrahams said the fraud had a “great impact” on the victims, some of whom ran farms.

Zhanje-Zwouche was said to have had a “lesser role” to leader Munemo, and used around £24,000 credit.

Gwewo stole post on behalf of the others and used around £45,000 credit.

Dlamini, who had 22 previous convictions for offences of theft and violence, used £2,000 credit and was found guilty after a trial.

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