CompaniesFeb 20 2014

Matthew Ames awaits sentencing for fraud

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Ames blew the cash on sports cars, flying first class around the world and staying in luxury villas in the Caribbean, the jury was told.

A jury of six men and six women at Isleworth Crown Court found Ames guilty by majority verdict.

Ames secured a total of more than £1.1m in investments into Investor Club following its launch in August 2008. Meanwhile, Forestry for Life, set up in July 2009, took £400,000 from green investors.

James Middleton was photographed representing the green firm at a carbon trading exhibition in London in October 2010 while Matthew Ames was under investigation by the then regulator, the FSA.

Mr Middleton had reportedly briefly worked with Ames for work experience after becoming involved in the development of Forestry for Life in June 2010, although he was never formally employed by Ames and there is no suggestion Mr Middleton had any knowledge of, or implication in, the fraud. The company would offer investors carbon credits that would be used to plant trees and offset their carbon footprint, the court heard.

But Forestry for Life was offering credits for a rainforest it did not own and the firm rarely gave investors certificates or proof of purchase.

Ames also offered investors high return rates of 15 per cent a year on their original investments but returns were often late and not paid in full.

The jury heard that Ames used a Ponzi scheme to conceal the fraud by repaying early investors with new investors’ money.

The company director was finally caught following an undercover sting by the Basildon Echo in August 2010 in which a reporter was mis-sold carbon credits.

The article led to the FSA investigating Ames’ firms, both run from a converted barn in Laindon, Essex.

Both Forestry for Life and the Investor Club were placed into liquidation in March 2011 with combined debts of more than £1.6m.

Ames was arrested in September 2011 following a referral from the FSA to City of London Police’s specialist fraud unit.

Giving evidence, Matthew Ames claimed he was “this close” to selling his business to Barclays Bank before he was shut down by the authorities.

The green finance boss told jurors he was not able to plant 5,000 tree saplings in Sri Lanka because he could not secure the “right” land.

He also claimed that every penny of the tens of thousands of pounds that he invoiced his firms for business expenses was “perfectly legitimate”.

Ames spent investors’ cash on meals at the exclusive Ivy in the West End and at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, alongside stays at the Savoy, the Hilton, and the Mandarin Oriental, a five-star hotel in Hong Kong.