Conman who swindled investors out of £226m for celebrity-backed Caribbean resorts is jailed

David Ames  (PA)
David Ames (PA)

A former double-glazing salesman dubbed a “Walter Mitty figure” who duped more than 8,000 people into investing in luxury Caribbean holiday resorts in a £226 million Ponzi scheme has been jailed for 12 years.

David Ames, 70, enriched himself and his family to the tune of £6.1 million, paying his wife and son £10,000 a month, while thousands of victims lost their pensions and life savings.

He convinced more than 8,000 people to invest in a web of companies in his Harlequin Group, promising them a stake in luxury hotels and resorts which had been endorsed by celebrities and politicians including the prime ministers of Barbados, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

However just one of the properties actually existed, as Ames propped up his business by drawing in more and more investors.

In total, £226 million was lost by investors between 2010 and 2015.

Sentencing Ames to 12 years in prison, Judge Christopher Hehir told him: “You are a menace to anyone unfortunate enough to go into business with you.”

He agreed with a previous High Court judge’s assessment of Ames as a “Walter Mitty figure” who falsely held himself out as a “visionary”.

“You were a slick and plausible salesman and tremendously dishonest with it”, said the judge.

“You were operating a gigantic Ponzi scheme. The whole sorry enterprise and the millions you and your family made from it could only be kept going by attracting new investors who you knew would lose everything or almost everything they invested.”

The judge said Ames surrounded himself with advisors who agreed to his plans, and ditched those who pointed out the flaws in his business endeavours.

“You were clearly more interested in pocketing investors’ money than ensuring those people got what they were paying for”, he added.

Southwark crown court heard Ames used money to pay for advertising campaigns featuring Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, former Chelsea star Andy Townsend and TV property guru Phil Spencer, while a proposed golf course resort in St Lucia was endorsed by South African sport legend Gary Player.

One of the victims, 73-year-old Anthony Priddle, was mortgage-free and on the brink of retirement when he was duped into Ames’s scheme and convinced to invest nearly £140,000.

The court heard he and his wife now cannot leave any money to their children and grandchildren, while Mr Priddle has suffered a deterioration in his health.

Richard Alan Jacob, 58, used his pension to invest £96,000 in one of Ames’s resorts and has lost it all, calling it a “financial disaster”.

Erica Brougton, 59, said the fallout of her investment caused the downfall of her business, forced her to move home, brought on anxiety and panic attacks, and caused a feud with her sister who no longer speaks to her.

The judge accepted that Ames, a former salesman for garden furniture and double glazing, had not gone into the holiday homes business intending to defraud his clients.

But he had failed to obtain outside funding, largely thanks to his “disastrous” business model, and has now been declared bankrupt three times.

Ames denied two counts of fraud by abuse of position at trial, blaming the losses on his business advisors. He was found guilty by a jury.

Serious Fraud Office director Lisa Osofsky said: “David Ames committed fraud on a huge scale, knowingly exposing thousands of UK investors to losses totalling hundreds of millions of pounds.

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