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Watch Out for Property Fraudsters!

Published: 19 January 2014, in categories: Legal Updates | Residential Property Updates | News and Updates

Watch Out for Property Fraudsters!

In a case which will stand as a stern warning to property investors, one member of a ruthless gang of conmen - who duped people into buying near-worthless plots of land with false promises of rich rewards from lucrative developments - has failed in an appeal against his six-and-a-half-year jail term.

Unwary members of the public had been induced to invest a total of £35 million in the bogus scheme.

Steven Ronald Percival was one of those imprisoned for their roles in the 'merciless' scam, which had involved selling land for up to 30 times its true value. He was jailed in March 2013 after he and two other gang members were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud. A fourth man admitted his part in the plot.

Percival challenged his sentence before the Court of Appeal, his lawyers arguing that it was manifestly excessive. He was said to have played a less serious role than some of his fellow conspirators, who were part of an 'inner circle' and trusted by the gang's ringleader.

However, in dismissing his appeal, the Court noted the misery that the offences had inflicted on victims. By using false names, front companies and high-pressure sales tactics during 'cold calls', the con artists had managed to persuade people that they would receive huge returns on their investments, although the plots of land could not in fact be developed.

The conspirators put on a professional front, producing fictional marketing materials and spinning stories to convince investors that major developments by large companies were in the pipeline. One example was a site in West Malling, Kent, which was bought from Kent County Council for £80,000.

That land was divided into more than 200 small plots, valued at just over £360, which were then sold on for £10,000 each, bringing in £2.1 million for the gang. That was despite the fact that that the land was in the green belt and was highly unlikely to be given planning permission for development.

Dismissing Percival’s appeal against the sentence, the Court noted, "He was convicted of a conspiracy to defraud which was on a large scale, sophisticated and hugely damaging to the victims. Many were ruined, or brought close to ruin, and some suffered mental breakdowns as a result of their loss. This was a cynical and merciless fraud, conducted by greedy people who could not have failed to realise the very great damage that they caused."

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