A BUSINESSMAN who put a £20,000 deposit on a trip to the moon is now behind bars for his part in a multi-million pound internet scam and tax dodge.

Ross Quinn and younger brother Luke ripped off people across the country with their online companies selling spas, steam rooms, furniture, ride-on lawnmowers, log cabins and hand-driers.

The majority of their customers never received what they paid for and were not given refunds when they were fobbed off by the crooked County Durham duo.

One couple were even told that their hot tub was delayed because the sea in China had frozen over.

Other victims included an organ donor charity, a golf club in the Scottish Borders and a hotelier as well as hundreds of individuals and Worldpay – which lost £405,000 alone.

The merchant payment company was used by many of the Quinns' customers, and they refunded those who had been duped by the brothers.

Ross Quinn registered six online retailers – four of which were involved in fraudulent trading – but paid little or no tax for them and evaded £333,000.

Luke Quinn's only company, Red Saunas Ltd, dodged £62,000 in tax and the fraud amounted to £530,000, Teesside Crown Court was told.

While the pair were raking in money, they rented a £1m property on the exclusive Wynyard estate near Stockton at £2,500 a month, and "a handsome detached family home" set in 1.8 acres in Wolsingham in Weardale.

They bought three Jaguar S-types, a BMW 316, a Range Rover, a Mercedes C180 Classic and a Volkswagen Golf, and Ross Quinn spent £118,000 gambling with money direct from the accounts of two of his companies.

The 30-year-old want-to-be millionaire – who once met Sir Richard Branson – also paid the tycoon a £20,000 deposit to be one of the first people on his £110,000 Virgin flights to the moon.

Jailing the brothers, of Beechfield Rise, Coxhoe, near Durham City, Judge Sean Morris told them: "Both of you are internet fraudsters.

"As society increasingly turns to the internet as a market place to buy and sell goods, so it is that the probity of those who trade online is of the utmost importance.

"Turning to the events frauds, the news is full every day of the shortage of money for hospitals, defence and the courts, and those who evade their tax are responsible for operations not taking place, for people not being cared for properly and the lack of police on the streets.

"It is not a laughing matter, revenue fraud. It is a fraud against every decent citizen and the vulnerable."

The pair admitted charges of fraudulent trading and tax evasion after their trial had started and two witnesses had given evidence – and after legal discussions resulted in charges being dropped against their sister.

In a letter to Judge Morris, Ross Quinn said he was the driving force behind the fraud and his 27-year-old brother was "in his thrall", and admitted taking £150,000 from Red Saunas for his own businesses.

His barrister, Andrew Rutter, denied he was a fantasist, and told the court: "He is obsessed with being successful, and wishes to be held in high regard. He met Richard Branson, he put £20,000 down so he could be one of the first people to go to the moon. That's how high his ambitions were."

Christopher Knox, for Luke Quinn, claimed the brothers never paid more than £1,000 for any of their cars, they were usually eight to ten years old, and ended up being scrapped once they had used them.

Mr Knox said they were not "living high" and told Judge Morris "there was an element of hero worship" from his client towards his older brother.

The judge told the pair: "You were quite prepared to rip off the public. It is not the most lavish lifestyle you were living as a consequence, I have seen a lot worse.

"But it was good enough for you, Ross Quinn, to pay £20,000 to Mr Branson to try to be one of the first people on a tourists' jolly into outer-space. I regard you as a complete Walter Mitty, and a dangerous one at that."

He told Luke Quinn: "I think you are somewhat star-struck by what you thought was a glittering and successful older brother. Well, you were wrong in that."

Ross Quinn was jailed for six-and-a-half years and was banned from being a company director for 13 years and three months. Luke Quinn was locked up for four years with a director disqualification for nine years.

Both defence barristers said the death of the brothers' mother in their childhood had an impact on their personality and behaviour, with Ross Quinn having regular counselling and treatment to cope with the loss.