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Echo nabs £1m fraudster
A CONMAN exposed by the Echo for selling green investment schemes which did not exist could face jail after being found guilty of fraud.
Matthew Ames, 38, used famous names, including James Middleton, the brother of the Duchess of Cambridge, Jack Charlton and Sir Rodney Walker, to promote bogus “ethical investments” and persuade people to part with £1.2million.
Ames, of Goldfinch Lane, Thundersley, was yesterday found guilty of conning investors into parting with about £430,000 to buy bogus carbon credits, which can be traded like shares on green stock exchanges, to investors from Forestry for Life, based at a converted barn in Dunton Road, Laindon.
Court appearance: Ames arriving at the Old Bailey for earlier hearing
A day earlier, he had been found guilty of scamming investors out of £846,000 in a bogus Sri Lankan teak tree plantation scheme, run from the same address.
Ames had denied two counts of fraudulent trading, but jurors at Isleworth Crown Court did not agree after sitting through a near six-week long trial.
Speaking after the guilty verdict, Det Con Simon Cordell, who led the investigation, said Ames operated a Ponzi fraud in which investors’ money was used to pay off other investors.
Royal connection: James Middleton (left) and former Environment Secretery Chris Huhne lock hands as Ames looks on
He said: “Ames created a Ponzi fraud to play on people’s conscience as well as their want to make their savings work for them, using trees and carbon credits to create a supposedly ethical investment scheme.
“Unfortunately it was all apack of lies so he could live the high life at others’ expense, with no remorse shown for the damage caused to his victims’ futures.”
Sports veteran: Sir Rodney Walker at Forestry for Life launch when he was its "chairman"
Ames’ slick brochures detailed how a minimum investment of £10,000 could provide returns of up to 15 per cent over 20 years.
To create the impression of success, funds taken from later investors were used to pay about £100,000 to his early victims, but by late 2010, payments stopped and investors found it increasingly difficult to contact Ames.
Life in the fast lane: Ames rented this Lamborghini parked outside his Thundersley home with investors' cash
The Echo went undercover to expose Ames’ firms. They were shut by the Financial Services Authority in March 2011, owing £1.6million.
Detectives found no evidence any land or trees had ever been purchased overseas or capital invested in the carbon credit markets. Instead, Ames used people’s money to cover company expenses and take luxurious trips overseas.
Anthony Swift, a specialist fraud lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Out of the £1.6m that was invested across both companies, only £250,000 was ever returned to investors.
“The rest went directly into the pocket of Matthew Ames, funding his profligate spending habits.”
DetETECTIVES said Ames used people with “impressive CVs” to promote Forestry for Life and give it a sense of legitimacy.
Launch: Jack Charlton hosted the Irish launch of Forestry for Life in 2010
Football legend Jack Charlton was hired to launch the scheme in Ireland in 2010 and later that year, in October, James Middleton, brother of the Duchess of Cambridge, was photographed with Ames representing Forestry for Life at a carbon conference at London’s Excel Centre.
Neither Mr Charlton nor Mr Middleton were implicated in any wrongdoing and were not involved in the investigation or trial.
Well connected: James Middleton talks visitor through Forestry brochure
Neither responded to the Echo when asked how they met Ames.
Sir Rodney Walker, former chairman of World Snooker and current head of the committee organising the UK leg of this year’s Tour de France, was described as chairman of Forestry for Life in its brochure.
He was never registered as a director, but later became a creditor for the firm during the liquidation and acted as a witness for the prosecution in the trial.
The court heard he became concerned in late 2010, after our report, and asked to see company accounts.
A City of London Police spokesman said: “Ames recruited professionals with impressive CVs, including former civil servants and businessmen.
“However, they were kept at arm’s length from the company finances and those who started to question the operating model were swiftly fired.”