UK: £2m Champagne fraud crook faces jail
Craig Dean, 35, and two accomplices in the UK plied potential customers in the UK with slick sales patter and glossy brochures to convince them to invest large sums in return for a financial killing in the run-up to the "biggest party" the planet had ever thrown.
They were assured their purchases would be safely stored in Government-bonded warehouses until just before New Year's Eve 1999, when they would be auctioned off to the highest bidders at either Sotheby's or Christie's.
Unfortunately, for the 1,000 investors' duped by the grand-sounding House of Delacroix, the top quality champagne they believed they had bought turned out to be second-rate "fizz" worth a fraction of what they paid.
Jonathan Fisher, prosecuting, told London's Southwark Crown Court that the scheme had been "shot through with falsehoods" and for those involved it was "a nice little earner".
Dean pleaded not guilty throughout the trail. The jury trying the case took just over four hours to unanimously convict him of one count of conspiracy to defraud between December 1995 and August 1998.
Remanding him in custody until March 6 for a pre-sentence report, Judge Robin Laurie told him: "This is of course a very serious offence."
His two accomplices, Lee Rosser, 31, and Julian Blee, 32, admitted the conspiracy and were sentenced at an earlier hearing.
Rosser was jailed for one and a half years, which was ordered to run consecutively to a seven-year term imposed after he was convicted of a separate whisky investment fraud.
Blee received 12 months for the champagne scam on top of four years he received after being found guilty of the whisky swindle.
Seven years ago, the first two men decided to set up Delacroix an off-the-shelf company based in Amsterdam and registered in the Dutch Antilles, with two Panamanian nominee companies listed as directors.
Staff were recruited from a base in Wimbledon, south-west London, while service offices were set up in Paris and Singapore to create the illusion of a "high-level, international operation".
"It is clear that Craig Dean played the most senior management role in the company after Rosser and Blee," said counsel.
The prosecution said would-be customers answering advertisements heralding a "once in a lifetime opportunity" and a "unique ... risk-free chance" to double their money when the "biggest party in 1,000 years ran out of fizz", were hoodwinked with a string of lies.
Dealing with some of the falsehoods fed to members of the public, Fisher said there was no truth in claims that the prices being charged were "fair and reasonable" and that there were "genuine and reasonable prospects of substantial profits".
In reality the Champagnes' mark-up was extremely high, no bespoke auctions were ever arranged and a frequently mentioned second market simply did not exist.
Fisher told the court the tens of thousands of bottles of allegedly "top restaurant" quality champagne on offer had actually been bought for about £5 each.
All together Delacroix's customers placed orders worth £2.5m, leaving Rosser, Blee and Dean with a gross profit of about £2.1m after expenses.
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