Penniless conman tried to sell the Ritz for £250m
A penniless conman was jailed for five years yesterday for an ambitious scam to sell the Ritz hotel in London for £250m (€300m).
Jobless lorry driver Anthony Lee (49), from Goole, East Yorkshire, England, found victims who were interested in the high-stakes world of trophy properties and sucked them in with false promises until they handed over £1m, London's Southwark Crown Court heard.
Lee was convicted earlier this month of obtaining the £1m payment by deception.
Sentencing him yesterday, Judge Stephen Robbins described the offence as an "elaborate and outrageous scam". The judge sentenced Lee to five years, minus the 25 days he has already served.
Lee convinced potential buyer Terence Collins that he was a "close friend and associate" of the reclusive billionaire Barclay brothers, owners of the prestigious hotel in Piccadilly.
But Frederick and David Barclay had never heard of Lee and were completely unaware he was claiming to be able to sell the landmark building.
Mr Collins sought the support of Dutch billionaire financier Marcel Boekhoorn to finance the £1m payment in December 2006, telling him the reclusive Barclay brothers had "secretive reasons" for selling the Ritz through a third party.
But the sale never happened, the promised paperwork never materialised and the money was never returned, the jury heard.
Lee claimed in court that the £1m payment related to a separate property deal he had with Mr Collins.
The court heard that Mr Collins agreed to refer to the payment as an introductory fee for a deal in Flaxby, North Yorkshire, "for accounting reasons" -- despite Mr Boekhoorn not having heard anything about this.
During the four-week trial, Lee, an undischarged bankrupt who had a police caution for theft, insisted he was just a "straight-talking Yorkshireman".
The judge told him: "This con or scam or sting, whatever term is used, was probably motivated by your mistaken belief that Terry Collins had deprived you of another potentially lucrative property deal and it may be that this offence was done out of revenge."
The court heard almost the first thing Lee did when the money landed in his account was transfer £435,000 to his friend Patrick Dolan (68). Mr Dolan said he blew the money on having a good time.
Lee, of Broad Lane, Beal, Goole, East Yorkshire, was convicted of obtaining the £1m payment by deception. He was cleared of conspiracy to defraud between January 1, 2006, and March 30, 2007.
Mr Dolan, of Philip Lane, Tottenham, north London, was also cleared of the conspiracy charge.
The pair's solicitor, Conn Farrell (57), of Aldershot, Hampshire, accused of lending a "veneer of legitimacy" to the scam, was cleared of the conspiracy charge after he told the jury he was simply acting on his clients' instructions.