The leader of a gang of Algerian asylum seekers that cheated shops out of up to £1.5m has been jailed for five years.
Ali Khelifi, 34, had controlled dozens of fraudulent bank accounts as “chief executive officer” for the operational end of the fraud, the prosecution said.
The gang used the accounts to buy goods in shops across the UK, then returned them for cash before cheques bounced.
They were caught after a shop assistant in Stratford-upon-Avon became suspicious and called police in 2002.
Khelifi, of Harlesden, north London, was the last of 10 men to be sentenced over the frauds.
He had pleaded guilty last year at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court to conspiracy to defraud and had been remanded for reports.
At the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Judge Simon Smith turned down Khelifi’s plea that he continue to be treated for mental illness in hospital rather than be sent to jail.
Judge Smith said: “I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that justice cannot be done by a hospital order.
“You have been taking part in various types of frauds continuously since you came to this country.
“It is clear that I cannot do justice in this case by passing a sentence which might allow you to be at large in a matter of months.”
The judge recommended that Khelifi be deported after serving his sentence.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Squad, said: “This was a systematic abuse of the banking system to perpetrate fraud.
“Those involved went to great lengths to cover their tracks and the full scale of their scheme.”