South Shields firefighter planned to retire at 50 by selling "knock-off Sky" boxes
A firefighter who planned to retire at 50 by selling "knock-off Sky" satellite television boxes has been given a suspended jail term.
Christopher Moore sold equipment and subscriptions that allowed customers to access channels, such as Sky sports and Sky movies, without paying out the broadcast giant's fees.
His customers could also view 3pm Premier League football games live.
The 44-year-old traded under the business names of Simple Vision and First Vision, and advertised the illegal service on Facebook and eBay.
He used a series of PayPal accounts and email addresses in the enterprise.
A court heard one PayPal account had been passed onto him by a friend, who ended up being arrested and questioned before he was eventually cleared of involvement.
At Newcastle Crown Court the 44-year-old, of Strathmore Gardens, South Shields, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading and transferring criminal property, between 2013 and 2015.
Prosecutor Cameron Crowe told the court the illegal dealing, which earned more than £60,000 turnover, came to the attention of the authorities after a tip-off to South Tyneside council.
Mr Crowe said investigators carried out test purchases and concluded the "knock-off Sky" boxes could broadcast free TV without Internet connection.
Mr Crowe told the court: "When the box was connected to the Internet, the box allowed access to subscription only content such as Sky Sports and Sky Movies, without paying the associated subscription.
"At this point this product was highly and entirely illegal."
Mr Crowe said Moore had spoke about his business during a Facebook conversation, during
which he wrote: "I have big plans for my retirement at 50.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
“I see a need to earn as much money as possible, outside of work.
"I sell digital Sky boxes...."
During the Facebook exchange, Moore had suggested the person could sell boxes on his behalf to earn cash.
Robin Patton, defending, said Moore, who has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, was left £400 per month short from his firefighter salary to pay off debts.
Mr Patton said Moore, who was awarded a long service medal and has references to commend his dedication and bravery during a 24 year career, had stopped the illegal trading once he was back in control of his cash flow.
Moore, described as a "decent hard working man" will now be pursued under the Proceeds of Crime Act for prosecutors to claim back any money he made.
Mr Patton said: "He is not going to profit from this one penny.
"They will be coming at him, using public money on behalf of Sky TV, to get the money back for Sky TV. "
Judge Robert Spragg sentenced Moore to 21 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with 180 hours unpaid work.
The judge told him: "You operated a sophisticated, dishonest business, designed to make significant profit on the back of work and investments of legitimate service providers."
Judge Spragg said Moore is deemed a low risk of further offending and his background and circumstances mean the sentence should be suspended.