Property and investment fraudster Matthew Ames has been found guilty of a Ponzi-style scam that tricked investors out of around £1.6 million.
Ames, son of overseas property company Harlequin chairman David Ames, swindled investors by diverting cash from sham carbon credit and teak plantation investments.
The jury at Isleworth Crown Court, West London, heard that Matthew Ames promised huge profits through two investment firms – The Investor Club and Forestry for Life – between 2008 and 2010.
He sold the investments as ethical and environmentally friendly opportunities.
But instead of putting the money into investments, the cash was siphoned off to pay for business expenses and an extravagant lifestyle of Caribbean holidays on the sunshine island of St Vincent and driving luxury cars, like a Lamborghini sports car.
No evidence of any investment
While Matthew Ames was living the high life on other people’s money, investors chalked up personal losses of up to £120,000 each.
Witnesses told the court that there was no evidence any investment was made by either company.
Detectives told the court that Matthew Ames had a liking for investors from Northern Ireland as he identified them as more likely to hand over their cash.
The fraud came to light in 2011 when investors claimed they had problems contacting Ames and his two companies.
Regulator the Financial Services Authority, now the Financial Conduct Authority, launched an investigation that revealed the bogus investment scam. The Investor Club and Forestry for Life were closed down and police were called in.
Matthew Ames was arrested in September 2011.
Life of lies
Detective constable Simon Cordell, who led the police investigation, said Ames constructed a ‘Ponzi fraud’ that was aimed at ethical investors who were keen to give something back in return for making some money.
“Unfortunately it was all lies so he could live the high life at their expense, with no remorse shown for the damage caused to his victim’s futures.
“I have little doubt that if we had not got to him when we did many more investors would have fallen into the same trap under a different company name.”
Only £250,000 was recovered from the money invested.
Neither David Ames nor Harlequin had any involvement in the fraud, although Matthew Ames was believed to have an operational role with Harlequin’s Buccament Bay resort on St Vincent; however the company has made clear Matthew Ames is no longer affiliated to the business.