Two jailed for inducing dozens to invest over €5m in forestry scam

Garret Hevey and David Peile have been jailed for a fraud in which they induced dozens to invest over €5m in a forestry investment scam.

Two jailed for inducing dozens to invest over €5m in forestry scam

- with reporting from Fiona Ferguson

Two Dublin men have been jailed for a fraud in which they induced dozens to invest over €5m in a forestry investment scam.

Garret Hevey (43) and David Peile (42) were involved in Arden Forestry Management (Arden FM) between January 2014 and mid-2016 during which 143 foreign investors were induced to deposit approximately €5.5m into the company's accounts.

Detective Inspector Catharina Gunne told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that these investments would have required around 858 acres of land to be serviced but the company only owned 30.2 acres of land when the fraud came to light.

The court heard that in company documentation sent to investors, Hevey used the pseudonym James Baker and Peile went by the name David Marshall. Hevey was in charge while Peile was second in charge and there were a number of others employed in trying to attract investors.

Accounts linked to the firm showed that out of a figure of €501,332 transferred to Hevey, €281,613 of this was spent on Google Ads.

Gardaí began investigating the company in June 2016 when one investor, Kari Wahlstrom, discovered that Arden were not the registered owners of the land he had invested in.

Mr Wahlstrom, a Finish national, had invested €52,000 in February 2016 and in May he contacted the company and asked to visit what had been identified as his investment. He also asked to be taken to the land registry.

On May 17, 2016 Peile emailed Hevey saying “shit, he wants to visit the land registry, how do we get over that?”. Insp Gunne told the court the victim did visit Ireland and met Hevey and Peile.

He was taken to a forest in Frenchpark, Co Roscommon and was happy with it but when he asked to go to the land registry office he was told there was no time.

On returning to his home in Greece he carried out his own inquiries with the land registry and was “dismayed” to find the land registered to someone else, Insp Gunne said.

Hevey, who set up the company in November 2013, pleaded guilty to dishonestly inducing investment in Arden FM between January 1, 2014 and June 13, 2016.

A recent file photo of David Peile. Picture: Collins Courts
A recent file photo of David Peile. Picture: Collins Courts

Hevey, of Brookdene, Shankill, Dublin, also pleaded guilty to three charges of inducing individuals by deception to make payments on dates between September 2015 and May 2016.

The court heard that Peile of Avondale Court, Ballyguile, Wicklow joined the company in 2015.

He pleaded guilty to dishonestly inducing investment in Arden FM between January 1, 2014 and June 13, 2016 and pleaded guilty to two charges of inducing individuals by deception to make payments on dates between September 2015 and May 2016.

Judge Melanie Greally noted that many of the victims of the fraud had made the investments for their children and could not afford the losses.

She noted that Heavey had roundly rejected the assertion that this was a “Ponzi scheme.” She said while it could not be characterised as a “Ponzi scheme” as such, it was a “simple case of calculated fraud.”

She described Hevey as the “engineer” of the scheme, noting aggravating factors such as the significant harm to those affected and “inappropriate interference” in the dealings of one of the injured parties with the gardai.

She took into account in mitigation for Hevey his guilty plea, his concessions of fact, his offer to repatriate money held in Dubai, his family circumstances, and excellent employment history.

She noted the publicity the case had attracted and the effect on Heavey's future employment.

In relation to Peile she noted he had made admissions and was co-operative with a search of his home and in his dealings with the liquidator. She took into account that he was currently employed and had a good work history.

Judge Greally noted as aggravating factors the large number of investors and the significant loss to those effected. She took into account in mitigation Peile's guilty plea, co-operation, family circumstances and community spirit, his mental health issues and his remorse.

She also noted the potential reputational damage to other by the unauthorised use of endorsements in the brochures and the potential damage to the reputation of the Irish Forestry sector.

Judge Greally imposed a sentence of five years imprisonment on Hevey with the final year suspended and a sentence of four years with one year suspended on Peile.

Insp Gunne told Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that investors received an investors' welcome pack which promised returns on their investment on the basis of income received from government grants, thinning of the forest and potential future sale of the forest.

Det Insp Gunn said there was in fact only 32 acres of forest that was purchased for €61,000 and the company was not eligible to a grant as the trees were older than 20 years old. The grant was only available in the case of forests planted in the last 20 years.

She confirmed that the company was incorporated in November 2013 and Hevey was one of the directors. A main bank account was opened in January 2014.

Det Insp Gunn said investors received a total of €271,000 in pay outs and when the company account was ultimately frozen by gardaí as part of their investigation, a total of €1.98 million remained in the bank account.

She said that €1.5m was transferred from Arden to a bank account in Dubai of which both defendants were beneficiaries.

After a freezing order was placed on the Arden FM Ltd. Account, Peile opened up an account with Barclays bank. A further €817,000 was lodged to this account by 35 investors who had tried to lodge to the frozen account and were given details of the second account.

The court heard that a virtual office was set up on Trinity Street in Dublin city centre and Hevey arranged for any mail addressed to this office to be re-directed to his home.

Det Insp Gunn disagreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending Hevey, that she was wrong about describing the offence as a Ponzi scheme and suggested that the evidence was not consistent with that description.

“I will just say that the same parcel of land was sold over and over again to investors, so I believe and I stand over the fact that I was investigating a Ponzi Scheme,” Det Insp Gunn replied.

Det Insp Gunn agreed with James Dwyer SC, defending Peile that his pleas of guilty were “very valuable pleas” as a trial could have “run for weeks and weeks” and all of the investors would have had to be flown in to give evidence.

Sean Guerin SC, defending Hevey, said his client offered a very different explanation during an interview with gardaí than the suggestion he was operating a “Ponzi scheme”.

Mr Guerin said there was an explanation that his client had a successful career in business and then struck out on his own, and after a relatively slow start the level of investment took off at an extraordinary rate, that they were more funds than he could handle and he could not buy forestry quick enough.

He said that the circumstances did not display the behaviour of someone operating a “Ponzi Scheme”, but rather someone who operated an unusual business model “perhaps unsuccessfully”.

Mr Guerin suggested that the gain to his client was not very large. He asked the court to pay heed to Hevey's wife's ill health and the onerous effect imprisonment would have in these circumstances.

James Dwyer SC, defending Peile, said his client has three children but is currently living with his parents. He said that his client had been diagnosed with a form of autism.

Mr Dwyer said his client was currently working and his employers were fully aware of the circumstances of this case. He asked the court to have regard for his client's otherwise unblemished character and that the role that he played appeared to have been lesser than his co-accused.

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