A jobless lorry driver has been convicted of trying to sell the Ritz Hotel for £250 million in an ambitious scam based on “one great big lie”.
He chose his mark well, finding victims who were interested in the high-stakes world of trophy properties and sucking them in with false promises until they handed over £1 million, Southwark Crown Court in central London heard.
Anthony Lee, 49, was found guilty of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception following more than 14 hours of jury deliberations at the end of a four-week trial.
Lee was at the heart of the con which was 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 Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay had never met or even heard of Lee and were completely unaware he was claiming to be able to sell the landmark building from under their noses. Anuja Dhir QC, for the prosecution, told the jury of nine women and three men: “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 £1 million, Ms Dhir said.
Mr Collins sought the support of Dutch financier Marcus Boekhoorn, of Apvodedo, to finance the £1 million payment in December 2006, telling him the Barclay brothers had their “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, the jury heard.
During the trial, Lee, an undischarged bankrupt who had a police caution for theft and was behind with his rent at the time of the scam, insisted he was just a “straight-talking Yorkshireman”. Almost the first thing he did when the money landed in his account was transfer £435,000 to his friend Patrick Dolan, 68, who told the court he spent it on having a good time.
Lee, of Broad Lane, Beal, Goole, East Yorkshire, was convicted of obtaining the £1 million payment by deception, but 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, who was accused of lending a “veneer of legitimacy” to the scam, was cleared of the conspiracy charge on Thursday after he told the jury he was simply acting on his clients’ instructions.