UK Wine Fraudsters Jailed

Two men who ripped off elderly investors end up as guests of Her Majesty. 

Two men swindled wine lovers out of almost $500,000 by promising to invest in Bordeaux – but the only wines the men bought were the ones they drank themselves.

Thomas Hole, aged 31, of London, was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment and 25-year-old Ryan Fraser, from Essex, was sentenced to a total of three years and four months' imprisonment at Southwark Crown Court last week.

Hole was convicted by majority jury of one count of conspiracy to defraud following a four-week trial. Fraser pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud at a previous court hearing last year and pleaded guilty to a further count of conspiracy to defraud on the first day of his trial in January.

Both men were also disqualified from being company directors for 10 years. Two other defendants who stood trial were acquitted on counts of conspiracy to defraud.

The scam involved a company, Premier Wine Investment Limited, which offered investment in fine wine, particularly Bordeaux. Victims were cold-called and persuaded to invest. They were told that they should leave their investments to grow in value over a number of years, which most investors did, allowing the defendants to use the money without being immediately detected. Investors stumped up £362,000 ($451,000) in total.

To overcome the suspicions of their bank, a new company with an almost-identical name was set up. The formation of Premier Wines Investment Limited in June 2012, allowed the offenders to continue to convince victims to pay their money in to a new separate account with a different bank, allowing them to continue their criminal activity.

The police investigation identified 13 victims, most of whom were approaching or at retirement age.

The victims had no idea that, instead of the company purchasing fine wine for them, the money was being used by the defendants on payments to their own bank accounts, was withdrawn in cash, was used on expensive overseas travel, on spa days, bespoke tailoring and on meals at restaurants. The only money which was spent on wine was the wine that the defendants purchased and consumed themselves.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Steve Conroy, of Thames Valley Police's Economic Crime Unit, said: "Thomas Hole and Ryan Fraser preyed upon the naivete and vulnerability of potential investors when they defrauded the victims in this case. This was a crime motivated by their greed, which resulted in them taking thousands of pounds of other people's retirement money and savings for themselves. Their contempt for the victims, who were mainly retired or elderly, showed they had no thought for the impact on their lives or the hardship they caused as a result."

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