THE man behind a company which distributed bogus charity bags to homes in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch has been jailed for 13 months after admitting fraud offences.

Lithuanian national Darius Kaminskas, 25, of Horfield, Bristol, was behind a firm called Sparco Limited.

The Daily Echo first reported on the company's activities in September 2010, when bags asking for donations to 'Bernhardos' were distributed around the conurbation. They were also reported in other areas of the UK.

Yesterday, Kaminskas was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court after pleading guilty to an offence of carrying on a business for a fraudulent purpose, which is a breach of the Companies Act 2006.

As well as a jail sentence, he was also disqualified from being the director of a company for seven years.

The result follows an investigation by South West Scambusters, a specialist team operating for 15 local authorities in the South West.

The court was told previously that Kaminskas established Sparco Ltd in April 2010 and that the firm used charity collection bags that were designed to recreate those used by legitimate charities in order to collect clothing door-to-door from unsuspecting members of the public.

It was the 'Bernhardos' bag that attracted the most complaints due to its close comparison to children's charity Barnardo's.

Other bags, including one purporting to be for a cancer charity called Azzara, also surfaced in Bournemouth and Poole. Kaminskas had legitimately collected for that charity prior to his arrest.

South West Scambusters said Barnardo's received more than 100 complaints about the bags in August and September 2010. The team took statements from householders in Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire and the West Midlands.

Both the breast cancer bag and the Bernhardos bag claimed to donate £50 for every tonne of clothing collected, which the court heard was untrue.

Kaminskas made his money by selling the collected clothes to wholesalers in Lithuania - it is thought he received more than £50,000 in nine months.

A raid on his Bristol premises in 2011 saw thousands of charity bags, leaflets and documentation seized, as well as a laptop belonging to Kaminskas, which contained on it scanned images of at least 38 different charity bags, including scans of six different Barnardo's bags.

Kaminskas made donations totalling just £900 to organisations in Lithuania.

At the time, Kaminskas told the Daily Echo: “We support St Pranciskus Asyzietis parish in Lithuania. In our language our name is 'Bernardinai'; we translated the word into English and got the name 'Bernhardos'.

“Many people think that we've copied 'Barnardo's' charity name, but this is not true.”

That claim was found to be untrue in court.

ANDY Sherriff, Trading Standards manager at Bournemouth Borough Council, said: “This was an abuse of the high regard in which legitimate charities are held. Mr Kaminskas - and his associates - made a cynical decision to copy a well-known charity and to cash in on the public's generosity.

“Thankfully, this Bernhardo's scam is at an end, but there will, no doubt, be others.

“I'd urge local residents to continue to support their favourite good causes. Take a couple of minutes, though, to check the details of anything that looks unusual or confusing. If in doubt, you can call the advice line on 08454 040506.”

SEVERAL Dorset residents spoke to the Daily Echo in 2010 after receiving fraudulent charity bags.

The first to get suspicious of the bags were Brian and Deborah Rogers, of Morley Road, Pokesdown.

After the Echo ran the story with them, others came forward, including Simone McDevitt, of Christchurch, and Linda Cram, from Alderney, Poole.

The Echo also went out in 2010 to challenge a driver as he and a partner were collecting the bags in Pokesdown.

That was the first time that Kaminskas' name came to light.