One of Britain’s most wanted fugitive fraudsters was allowed to slip back into the country undetected.
James Maynard had been on the run since 2013 for his central role in a scam that fleeced £35.8million from unwitting investors.
In a shocking lapse, he was able to brazenly return to Britain this summer using his own passport, even though there was a warrant for his arrest.
He was only caught when he tried to leave again, being stopped at Gatwick Airport with a ticket to Cyprus.
Now the 38-year-old from Croydon, south London, is starting a seven and a half year jail sentence after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
His Honour Judge Beddoe, sitting at Blackfriars Crown Court on Monday, was astonished that Maynard had not been arrested on his in-bound journey, asking: “How did he get back in?”
Andrew Bird, prosecuting, said: “We think it was Eurotunnel, when for whatever reason the existence of the warrant may not have been noticed by those responsible.”
The judge replied: “I raise this issue because it may be that the Border Force want to review the adequacy of their system. It seems remarkable.”
Hugh Forgan, defending, told the court: “The system worked at Gatwick, it did not work at Folkestone.”
The fraud centred on a company called Countrywide Land Holdings Limited and later Regional Land, which used "boiler room" coldcallers to dupe victims into pumping their savings into plots of greenfield land.
The company lied that the value of the land would rocket because it would get planning permission for development or was wanted by corporate investors, when if fact it was virtually worthless. It was impossible to re-sell, having no access roads, gas or electricity, boundaries or planning permission.
The court heard that Maynard bought one plot of agricultural land near Maidstone, Kent, for £80,000 and divided it into 210 roughly house-sized plots. These were sold for around £10,000 each, when the pro-rate value was only around £380.
“The nub of the fraud was allowing the investors to think that £10,000 was a good investment,” said Mr Bird.
He read out a string of victim statements, including one in which a woman said: “My husband and I worked extremely hard all our lives to see it all wiped out by Countrywide Land Holdings.”
Sales reps conned more than 400 people into investing, with expert “closers” being paid commission of up to 50% for signing up victims.
So-called “loaders” then put even more pressure on investors to buy further plots, telling them to borrow the money if necessary.
They were rewarded with luxuries such as Monteblanc cuff links, Rolex watches and trips to the Grand Prix at Monaco.
They could also be sacked on the spot, Mr Bird telling the court “the office was run on one upmanship and fear”, with Maynard being the enforcer.
Judge Beddoe said the gang saw investors as “contemptible prey to be chewed up and spat out”.
He went on: “As far as I am aware barely any of that £35million or so has been recovered.
“Many, many people have been ruined or brought close to ruin.
“This therefore was a grotesque, cynical, merciless fraud conducted by the greedy who could not have failed to realise the very great damage they were doing.”
Maynard is the fifth culprit to be locked up for the fraud – four others were jailed for a total of 26 years in 2013, including Ferrari-driving sales rep Daniel Webster.
The others jailed were at that hearing were lying sales reps Steven Percival and Stephan Allan and Christopher Demetriou, who set up the virtual offices that the gang used to give the impression of having prestigious addresses in Canary Wharf, London.
Two others at the “wicked heart” of the conspiracy, Andrew Dunne and Malcolm Hills, who are believed to still be in Northern Cyprus. Dunne has been pictured on a Russian dating website standing in front of a Bentley.
Besides the jail term, Maynard was also given a 15 year directorship disqualification and a nominal £1 confiscation order, being a bankrupt with no apparent assets.
Trading standards in Tower Hamlets, London, where the coldcallers were based, began investigating in 2010.
“We will not relent in our efforts to bring criminals to justice, no matter how long it may take,” said mayor John Biggs.
“This was one of the largest fraud cases brought before the courts by any local authority, following a long investigation by our trading standards team and the police.
“I hope today’s sentencing and the closure of this case brings some consolation to the victims of such a callous crime.”
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: “Today’s sentencing of this runaway fraudster is an excellent result, testament to the persistence and hard work of Tower Hamlets Trading Standards and the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team. The teams work tirelessly to protect vulnerable consumers against this sort of merciless fraud.
“I would like to remind everyone, especially victims, that time is no barrier in bringing criminals to justice.”
The Home Office would not comment on how Maynard got back into Britain, saying: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
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