A debt-ridden car dealer who conned almost £250,000 out of a Premier League soccer star after promising to supply him with luxury vehicles was jailed for 40 months today.
A judge at Birmingham Crown Court condemned Richard Esprit for using "the verbal equivalent of smoke and mirrors" to steal from Aston Villa striker John Carew.
Esprit, 44, was convicted of two counts of theft and two of fraud following a trial in December at which Carew gave evidence.
The trial heard that Esprit, of Ouseley Road, Wraysbury, near Staines, west London, befriended the footballer and offered to supply him with a bespoke Porsche Cayenne Gemballa and a Porsche 997.
But despite taking payments for the cars, Esprit failed to deliver the Gemballa, took back the 997 after problems with its paperwork and pocketed £46,000 from the sale of a BMW belonging to the Norwegian international, who is currently on loan at Stoke.
Passing sentence, Judge Rupert Mayo condemned Esprit for taking advantage of someone who regarded him as a friend.
The judge told the car dealer: "In March to June of 2007 you obtained nearly a quarter of a million pounds from John Carew by fraud.
"You sought to hide the raw truth with the verbal equivalent of smoke and mirrors. This case truly crosses the custody threshold."
Before the judge passed sentence, Esprit's counsel William Eaglestone submitted that his client had lost control of his relationship with Carew and lapsed into dishonesty.
The court heard Esprit used some of the stolen money to make mortgage payments, while ignoring the parlous state of his business.
Mr Eaglestone added: "Mr Esprit says he was blinded by his own stupidity in carrying on in this way.
"He is completely disgusted and appalled by his deplorable behaviour, particularly because, in his words, Mr Carew was such a good guy."