BBC- A British fraudster who duped more than 8,000 people into investing in celebrity-backed luxury Caribbean holiday resorts in a $260m scam has been jailed for 12 years.
An investigation found David Ames, from Essex, used celebrity endorsements to lure people into the fraudulent scheme.
The 70-year-old denied two counts of fraud by abuse of position between 2010 and 2015, but was found guilty.
The judge at Southward Crown Court jailed him for 12 years and said had operated “a gigantic Ponzi scheme”.
It was heard Ames, from Basildon, convinced people to invest in the Harlequin Group – a hotel and resorts development venture that was endorsed by celebrities and politicians, including the prime ministers of Barbados, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Backed by Liverpool Football Club, the project used international sporting figures, including South African golfer Gary Player, tennis star Pat Cash and Wales rugby coach Rob Howley, in promotional material.
Former footballers Andy Townsend, John Barnes and David Fairclough, cricketers Ronni Irani and Martin Bicknell, and Location, Location, Location presenter Phil Spencer also provided endorsements.
More than 8,200 units, including villas and hotel rooms, were sold in seven locations in the Caribbean and Brazil but only 176 were ever built – at one resort in Buccament Bay, St Vincent.
One of the victims, Martin Dansey, 52, lost the entirety of his and his wife’s £241,500 life savings with Harlequin, leaving him in a “desperate financial situation”.
In his victim impact statement, he said he had suffered “enormous stress” and had to sell his house to support his wife and two young children.
Meanwhile, Ames enriched himself and his family to the tune of $7m, the court was told.
Judge Christopher Hehir said that, although he accepted Harlequin was not fraudulent from the outset, by 2010 Ames was “operating a gigantic Ponzi scheme” backed by a “sophisticated marketing operation” involving “celebrity endorsements and some very lavish entertaining indeed”.
“You are a thrice-bankrupt fraudster who has caused losses of over £200m by your fraudulent conduct,” he told him.
“In short, you are a menace to anyone who was to do business with you.”