Men behind land investment fraud jailed

Men behind land investment fraud jailed

Men behind a boiler room operation that ripped off 193 victims, defrauding them of £7.5m have been jailed for 35-and-a-half years.

James Francis Byrne, 30, of Seven Sea Gardens in London, set up a boiler room in 2008, which was initially named Paramount Land but the name changed several times during its three-year existence.

Paramount Land bought agricultural land for low prices and then sold it for far more than it could ever be worth by making false guarantees as to the future value.

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They also sold land that they did not own.

In November 2010, the City of London Police became aware of a suspected boiler room operation in rented office accommodation in Dowgate Hill, London.

Officers from the City of London Police’s fraud teams started to investigate and Byrne was arrested on the 2 February 2011 but the boiler room continued to function from a secret location.

This was identified in March 2011 when the boiler room was shut down and further arrests were conducted. 

City of London Police Detective Sergeant, Marcus McInerney, said: “These defendants caused intense misery for their victims. They used the money to enjoy lavish and extravagant lifestyles leaving their victims destitute. 

“The nasty selling techniques which ultimately intimidated and deceived victims and forced them to part with their hard-earned money were an added humiliation. 

“Through the asset recovery procedure, we will now work to recover as much of their ill-gotten gains as possible, to ensure that they do not benefit from their offending and in order to achieve compensation for the victims.” 

Byrne’s fellow directors Sam Exall, 31, of Orpington in Kent, and Michael Foran, 27, of Whitton Walk in London, assisted with the running of the operation while Max Jefferys, 31, of Woodford Green, was a “prolific” salesman making the calls to victims.

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.

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

Computer evidence and documents were seized from the rented offices and the defendants’ addresses.

Telephone recordings showed Byrne and Exall made several phone calls where they spoke about criminal activity while Max Jefferys was found to have spoken to a number of victims using a pseudonym.

Banking material demonstrated the defendants made a total of £1.6m from the fraud.

The details of the case can only now be released as reporting restrictions were lifted at Southwark Crown Court on 21 November. 

Byrne pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Southwark Crown court on 2 August.