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14 February 2014, 19:27
The Dorset manager of an investment fund who spent millions of pounds of investors' money to pay for his "lavish lifestyle'' has been jailed for seven years.
Benjamin Wilson, 35, duped "several hundred'' investors including close friends and colleagues into investing nearly £22 million into SureInvestment, London's Southwark Crown Court heard.
He used the cash to pay for a multimillion-pound new home as well as buying racehorses, a luxury sports car and gambling in Las Vegas.
Wilson doctored business statements to hide his fraudulent activity, using Google Images to copy the signature of author Terry Pratchett to sign off audit reports, the court heard.
He pleaded guilty in December 2013 to two counts of forgery and one of fraud, having previously admitted a charge of operating a collective investment scheme without authorisation.
Sentencing Wilson to seven years, Judge Michael Grieve said Wilson had carried out an ``utterly shameless confidence fraud'' targeting victims who invested money ``they could ill afford to lose''.
He had used the cash to fund a lifestyle of ``untold lavishness and luxury'', the judge said.
Opening the case earlier, prosecutor Michael Brompton QC said Wilson was a ``cunning and sophisticated man'' who targeted a large number of victims, many of whom were vulnerable.
``Between 2003 and 2010 he obtained funds totalling approximately £21.8 million from several hundred private investors which he purported to invest in a collective scheme managed by him,'' the barrister said.
``He offered investors huge returns on their money and pretended that he had succeeded in obtaining them. In fact most of the money was uninvested and that which was invested produced paltry returns or, more frequently, losses.''
The rest of the money was used to pay for Wilson's ``extravagant lifestyle'' and to ``defray the overheads of his business facade'', Mr Brompton said.
Most of the investors were recruited by word of mouth including friends and members of his local golf club and later by a firm of financial advisors, the court heard.
Some of the investors appeared to be ``wealthy people'' but most suffered ``grievous losses'', Mr Brompton said.
Wilson, from Verwood, told investors the fund was based in the British Virgin Islands and therefore not under regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the court heard.
``In fact there was no such fund in the British Virgin Islands,'' Mr Brompton said, adding the money was instead held in the UK bank accounts in Wilson's name.
In 2008, Wilson used investors' cash to take on new offices in Bournemouth which he refurbished to include a bar, massage room and a games room, the court heard.
He recruited new ``mostly youthful'' employees, including two trainee traders, with no experience of trading on financial markets, the hearing was told.
``They spent most of their time on computer simulations and rarely traded live,'' Mr Brompton said.
The employees were not accomplices and had also invested into the fund which Wilson claimed was now worth more than 100 million dollars, the prosecutor said.
The court heard £20 million of investors' cash was paid into Wilson's fund between 2009 and 2010 and less than £4 million was invested with brokers, while some £6 million was spent on Wilson's personal expenditure, Mr Brompton said.
He used the cash to buy a house for £4 million with refurbishments costing £500,000 as well as spending £200,000 on cars including a Ferrari California costing £160,000 and £200,000 on racing and racehorses.
Other spending included £100,000 on shopping, £75,000 on golf and more than £85,000 on a gambling trip to Las Vegas, the court heard.
Some £4 million was also spent on business expenses including almost £1 million on new offices in Poole, Dorset.
Investors included professional rugby player Charles Amesbury, a school friend of one of Wilson's traders, and Keith Satchell, a life assurance company director whose son was Wilson's best friend from childhood, the court heard.
Wilson, a Swansea University graduate, who previously worked for computer company Intel, was arrested in June 2011, the hearing was told.
The court heard Wilson paid out £4 million to a handful of investors and a further #5.3 million had been recovered - leaving £12 million still outstanding.
The defendant, who has since been declared bankrupt, was jailed for five months in April 2012 for breaching a freezing order imposed by the High Court.
Wilson, wearing a shirt and grey jumper in the dock, showed no reaction as he was told he must serve half of his seven-year sentence in prison before being released on licence.
He was also banned from working as a company manager or director for 15 years and a confiscation order was made for just £1 due to Wilson's bankruptcy.
It is estimated a further £444,500 will be recovered for investors, the court heard.