Two jailed over land investment fraud

Two jailed over land investment fraud

Two men behind a boiler room operation that stole more than £7.5m from vulnerable people using “nasty” sales tactics have been jailed.

Drew Hales was found guilty of fraud by false representation and money laundering and sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

Meanwhile James Patrick Byrne was jailed for 18 months after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.

They defrauded 193 victims through a company which was initially named Paramount Land, although the name changed several times during its existence between 2008 and 2011.

Byrne was a director of the fraudulent company and Hales was a salesperson who contacted victims, exaggerated the value of land and sold it to unsuspecting victims at inflated costs by making false guarantees as to the future value.

In some instances, they also sold land that they did not own. They then convinced investors that the only way they could get their money back was to invest more money so that their portfolio could be bought out by a nameless conglomerate that never existed.

The defendants subsequently set up numerous umbrella companies in order to move money around.

The boiler room typically targeted vulnerable and elderly victims by cold-calling them and used a variety of lies, aggression and pressure to convince them to make investments in land at a grossly inflated cost.

City of London Police acting Detective Inspector, Marcus McInerney, the officer in charge of the case, said: “These men caused unimaginable misery for their victims.

“They used nasty sales techniques to intimidate and deceive victims, forcing them to part with their hard-earned money.

“In some cases, they left their victims destitute and some victims had remortgaged their homes because of the defendants’ lies

“They used the money to enjoy lavish and extravagant lifestyles, adding to their victim’s humiliation.

“We are now working to recover as much of their ill-gotten gains as possible through the asset recovery procedure.

“This will ensure that they do not benefit from their offending and in order to achieve compensation for the victims.”

In November 2010, the City of London Police’s Fraud Squad became aware of a suspected boiler room operation taking place in rented office accommodation in Dowgate Hill in the City.

Officers started to investigate and Bryne was arrested in February 2011, but the boiler room continued to function from a secret location until it was shut down the following month. 

Computer evidence and documents including telephone recordings of the pair speaking to victims and brochures that they would send to victims, were seized from the rented offices and the defendants’ addresses.

Banking material demonstrated that the defendants made large sums of money from the fraud. 

The men were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court following an investigation by the City of London Police Fraud Squad.

Four other men involved in the same boiler room scam were tried separately in April.