Conman, 70, faces jail for duping 8,000 victims into investing in luxury Caribbean holiday resorts

  • 5 min read
  • Aug 03, 2022

Conman, 70, faces jail for duping 8,000 victims into investing in luxury Caribbean holiday resorts

A conman faces jail after tricking 8,000 people into investing in celebrity-endorsed luxury Caribbean resorts – but they were never built in a scam that netted him millions.

Former double-glazing salesman David Eames, 70, made himself and his family £6.2million and paid his wife and son £10,000 a month, while thousands of victims lost their pensions and life savings.

The Serious Fraud Office said he persuaded more than 8,000 people to invest in the Harlequin Group – a hotel and resort development project backed by celebrities and politicians including the prime ministers of Barbados, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. has been confirmed.

The Eames’ idea was to build holiday homes with their deposits – but the cash was spent on agents and fancy advertising featuring Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, ex-Chelsea star Andy Townsend and TV property guru Phil Spencer.

A proposed golf course at the Marquis estate in St Lucia has been endorsed by South African sports legend Gary Player.

Mr. Spencer said he invested in one of the company’s properties in a promotional video, and that Townsend was once the face of Ames on his website.

They had absolutely no idea that Eames was running a huge scam from a warehouse in Basildon, Essex, and there is no suggestion that any of the stars who endorsed or promoted the business were involved in any alleged wrongdoing.

The total value of planned resorts in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and another in Brazil was £1.4 billion.

But when the fraud was uncovered, Ames was selling properties he didn’t even have planning permission for on land he didn’t own.

Former double-glazing salesman David Eames, 70 (pictured at Southwark Crown Court today) pocketed millions by luring savers and pensioners to buy off-plan properties.

Former double-glazing salesman David Eames, 70 (pictured at Southwark Crown Court today) pocketed millions by luring savers and pensioners to buy off-plan properties.

The Serious Fraud Office said he persuaded more than 8,000 people to invest in the Harlequin Group - a hotel and resort development project backed by celebrities and politicians including the prime ministers of Barbados, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. has been confirmed.

The Serious Fraud Office said he persuaded more than 8,000 people to invest in the Harlequin Group – a hotel and resort development project backed by celebrities and politicians including the prime ministers of Barbados, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. has been confirmed.

The total value of planned resorts in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and another in Brazil was £1.4 billion.  But when the fraud was uncovered, Ames was selling properties he didn't even have planning permission for on land he didn't own.  Pictured: An undeveloped property from Harlequin in St Vincent

The total value of planned resorts in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and another in Brazil was £1.4 billion. But when the fraud was uncovered, Ames was selling properties he didn’t even have planning permission for on land he didn’t own. Pictured: An undeveloped property from Harlequin in St Vincent

Prospero House Crown Court heard investors lost £398m of their savings and pensions from 2006 to 2015.

Victims believed they had a safe investment in the property, but with a £1.2 billion funding shortfall by 2012 – seven years after the scheme was launched – investors were exposed to an almost 100 per cent risk of loss.

Ames denied two counts of fraud by abuse of position, but was found guilty on both counts by a jury at Prospero House Nightingale Court on Wednesday.

Eames, who owns a five-bedroom detached house worth more than £2million in rural Essex, was convicted of three counts of fraud by abuse of position while he was chairman of his company Harlequin Management Services South East Limited (HMSSE).

He made £6.2m in shares and dividends for himself and his family in the scam.

Eames planned developments at 15 sites, but work was done only on a renovated hotel in St. Lucia and the Bucament Bay development in St. Vincent.

About 9,000 were sold, but only 200 were built at Buccament Bay.

Prosecutor Michael Bowes earlier told jurors: “This fraud was perpetrated by David Eames, who induced investors to enter into contracts to buy those properties off-plan.

“The true state of affairs in relation to those properties was that he exposed those investors to loss or risk of loss in order to make a profit for himself or his family.

He gave them nothing in return, they lost all their money.

By 2011, it was clear that Ames’ business plan was unworkable, but he sold thousands more units and took new investors’ money to Buckament Bay, knowing the development was a sham.

Image: David Ames with Andy Townsend.  There is no suggestion that any of the stars who endorsed or promoted the business were involved in any alleged wrongdoing.

Image: David Ames with Andy Townsend. There is no suggestion that any of the stars who endorsed or promoted the business were involved in any alleged wrongdoing.

Investors were required to pay 30% of the property’s purchase price to secure a unit and were promised an annual rental income of £20,000.

He needed to sell three units to get the money to build one, and started selling properties on land he didn’t own and had no planning permission for in Buckament Bay.

Ames boasts in its sales ad that “Harlequin Property is a company you can trust”.

But Mr Bowes said: “The reality, of course, was very different. The business model was a resort that was never built, so much money poured in and little to show for it, all sustained by endless sales and commitment never kept.

Ames tried to attract more deposits by promising a fictitious 70% loan.

That 70% mortgage was not available. How could David Ames really let it go off? He knew that was simply not true.

“They were like, ‘Come on, it’s lovely, we’ll take care of you!’

“It was a deliberate lie to attract investors.”

If potential investors had wanted more information about the mortgage provider, they would have found that it didn’t exist.

Ames boasts in its sales ad that

Ames boasts in its sales ad that “Harlequin Property is a company you can trust”. Image: A Harlequin ad featuring Andy Townsend

Mr Bowes added: ‘Of course, David Eames noticed. Obviously it’s just spiraling out of control. It was always out of control.

Sarah Tricker, an account manager at HMSSE, said she had to field dozens of calls from concerned investors asking when their properties would actually be built.

At one stage they were sent a letter stating that there was a problem with the bank that was beyond their control.

“Was there actually a problem with the bank?” asked Mr Bowes.

“No,” replied Mrs. Tricker.

‘What was the problem?’ asked Mr. Bowes.

“There was no money,” Ms. Tricker said.

Ms. Tricker had actually tried to buy a property in Buckman’s Bay — but then discovered that the 70 percent mortgage offered by the company didn’t actually exist.

Michael Slade, a former HMSSE employee who worked in logistics, said he had visited a resort in St Vincent but the situation was “very chaotic”.

When we got there it was a construction site, not much activity there. It was very messy.

Mr Slade said a surveyor’s report on the construction proved to be “very damning”.

“I thought the value of the work completed in the surveyor’s report was remarkably low,” he said. I was staggering.

I put it down to high waste and poor management. The site itself had many remedial issues and poor construction. The surveyor’s report was absolutely damning.

Eames, of Bluewell Wood, Brock Hill, Ranwell, Essex, denied but was found guilty by a unanimous jury of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.  He will be sentenced at a date to be fixed at Southwark Crown Court (pictured)

Eames, of Bluewell Wood, Brock Hill, Ranwell, Essex, denied but was found guilty by a unanimous jury of two counts of fraud by abuse of position. He will be sentenced at a date to be fixed at Southwark Crown Court (pictured)

Mr. Slade asked to see the contract between the contractors and developers and was handed a two-page document that simply listed the types of buildings to be built.

There were no real terms on how they were made or how much they cost. This was not a construction contract.

Ames was interviewed by police twice, first in 2013 and then in December 2015.

He denied that he had acted dishonestly in any way and continued to promote Harlequin’s business model as a viable company in which he believed.

Eames believed that he always put the interests of his investors first over the entire Harlequin company.

He also told investigators that throughout, he relied on the advice given to him by the professionals he employed.

Ames, who did not testify, was supported by his wife, Carol Ann, during the nine-week trial.

They both went bankrupt at Southend County Court in December 2018, as 24 creditors applied to the court.

In 2014, their son Matthew Eames was jailed for three years and four months for running a £1.6m Ponzi scheme after setting up bogus carbon investment and teak investment schemes.

Eames, of Bluewell Wood, Brock Hill, Ranwell, Essex, denied but was found guilty by a unanimous jury of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.

He will be sentenced at a date set at Southwark Crown Court.

“Inevitably there will be a long prison sentence,” said Judge Christopher Hare.

Ames hung his head in shame as the jury returned its verdict.

Lisa Osofsky, director of the SFO, said: “David Ames committed fraud on a massive scale and knowingly exposed thousands of UK investors to losses totaling hundreds of millions of pounds.

“The SFO’s diligent investigators reviewed millions of documents, traced more than 8,000 investor deposits and called more than 25 witnesses to expose the full extent of Ames’ deception.”

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