A LIMERICK man was yesterday cleared of any involvement in a scam to sell the Ritz Hotel for £250 million (€300m).
The verdict came as a penniless conman faced a substantial jail sentence after being convicted yesterday over the scam.
Unemployed English lorry driver Anthony Lee, 49, 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, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.
Remanding him in custody, Judge Stephen Robbins said Lee faces an “immediate and quite substantial custodial sentence” on July 27.
No sooner had the £1m landed in Lee’s Irish account, he split it with his friend, Limerick man Patrick Dolan and the pair spent the money as if it was going out of fashion, the court heard.
Dolan, who was cleared of any involvement in the scam, said he blew the money on having a good time. The Irishman took out up to €40,000 in cash a day (then worth about £27,000) for gambling and lost €185,000 (about £125,000) on the horses. He also bought a £42,000 Mercedes and paid off his €46,000 (about £31,000) mortgage.
“I had a good time,” the 68-year-old Irishman said.
“A wise man told me there’s no shops in the graveyard.”
The court was told Lee was at the heart of a con based on “one great big lie”, convincing 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 met or heard of Lee and were completely unaware he was claiming to be able to sell the landmark building.
Detective Sergeant Garry Ridler, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “This man is your typical fraudster. He gains the trust of people through lies and once he’s got them under his control, he extracts the money from them.
“Not happy with the million pounds, he decided to go back for more.”
Anuja Dhir, prosecuting, told the jury: “The deal that sounded too good to be true was a complete fantasy.”
The “simple but well-targeted and ambitious scam” offered the victims a tempting bargain in which they were promised everything but frustrated with unnecessary requests until they handed over £1m, Dhir said.
Collins sought the support of Dutch billionaire Marcus Boekhoorn, of Apvodedo, to finance the £1m payment in December 2006, telling him that the Barclays 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.
Lee, of Goole, East Yorkshire, was convicted of obtaining the £1m payment by deception. But he was cleared of conspiracy to defraud between January 1, 2006, and March 30, 2007.
Retired 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 yesterday after he said he was simply acting on his clients’ instructions.
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