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Monday, 20 February 2017

Two men – Thomas Hole and Ryan Fraser – sentenced for wine fraud offences – London and Essex

Thames Valley Police
Press Release: 
Saturday 18 February 2017, 4:27pm

Two men have been sentenced for duping victims in a £362,000 wine scam, following a Thames Valley Police investigation.

Thomas Hole, aged 31, of Rectory Crescent, London, was sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment and Ryan Fraser, aged 25, of Hemnall Street, Epping, Essex, was sentenced to a total of three years and four months’ imprisonment at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 10 February.

Thomas Hole was convicted by majority jury of one count of conspiracy to defraud following a four-week trial at the same court which concluded on 3 February.

Ryan Fraser pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud at a previous court hearing in January 2016 and pleaded guilty to a further count of conspiracy to defraud on the first day of his trial on 9 January 2017.

Both men were also disqualified from being company directors for 10 years.

Two other defendants who stood trial; Mohammed Boodhoo, aged 38, of Ruxley Lane, Epsom, Surrey, was acquitted of one count of conspiracy to defraud and Kenneth Fraser, aged 50, of Thornwood Road, Epping, Essex, was acquitted of one count of conspiracy to defraud.

A company, Premier Wine Investment Limited, was set up which offered investment in Bordeaux, fine wine. Various people were cold called and were persuaded to invest. They were told that they should leave their investments to grow in value over a number of years which most investors did, allowing the defendants to be able to use the money without being immediately detected.  

To overcome the suspicions of their bank, a new company similarly named which just added an ‘s’ on to Wine, was set up. The formation of Premier Wines Investment Limited, in June 2012, allowed the offenders to continue to convince victims to pay their money in to a new separate account with a different bank, allowing them to continue their criminal activity.

The investigation, carried out by Thames Valley Police’s Economic Crime Unit, identified 13 victims, most of whom were approaching or enjoying their retirement.

The victims did not realise that instead of the company purchasing fine wine for them, the money was being used by the defendants on payments to their own bank accounts, was withdrawn in cash, was used on expensive overseas travel, on spa days, bespoke tailoring and on meals at restaurants. 

The only money which was spent on wine was the wine that the defendants purchased and consumed themselves. Between December 2011 and August 2013 the defendants conspired together to defraud people by making false, misleading and dishonest representations about the value and existence of wine.

Investigating officer Det Con Steve Conroy, of the Economic Crime Unit, said: “Thomas Hole and Ryan Fraser preyed upon the naivety and vulnerability of potential investors when they defrauded the victims in this case. This was a crime motivated by their greed which resulted in them taking thousands of pounds of other people’s retirement money and savings for themselves. Their contempt for the victims, who were mainly retired or elderly, showed they had no thought for the impact on their lives or the hardship they caused as a result. 

“The sentences passed show that these offences are taken seriously by police and the Economic Crime Unit will pursue those who offend to ensure they are brought to face justice.”

Monday, 13 February 2017

Montevino Partners Mark 2: briefly active + Michael Moore jailed

Thomas Roger White Montevino Partners 


Montevino Mark 2
'We try to do things a little different here at Montevino.' Thomas White 

Thomas White: details of two of his five companies – 
Spirited Ventures Ltd and Montevino Partners Ltd 
– both trading as Montevino Partners 


Debts incurred by Spirited Ventures Ltd: £691,326.93
including £155,694.15 to HMRC
£233,177.16 – trade & expense creditors 
 inc £210,601.92 to Clarendon Hills.
Thomas White director's loan – £208,869
Statement of affairs signed by White

 Stock of wine  – 'uncertain' !! 

Following the compulsory winding up in London High Court in August 2016 of Spirited Ventures Ltd trading as Montevino Partners, a second company – Montevino Partners Ltd – took over the Montevino Partners' trading name. Unfortunately I have to report that Montevino Partners Ltd is too apparently headed for liquidation. To date any deficit is not known. However, it is evident that a number of clients have yet to receive wine for which they paid in full. In some cases losses may run into six figures. 

Not to be discouraged Thomas Roger White, the sole director of Montevino Partners Ltd is now looking to launch another limited company – the MVP Wine Club. The plan is to run wine events which will be so profitable that clients' losses incurred by investing in wine through Montevino Partners will be rapidly repaid – perhaps within two years.

On 2nd May 2016 I posted – The Mysteries of Montevino Partners – on investdrinks covering the company's history to date and the then forthcoming fraud trial of Michael Moore. Although not a director Moore was a significant presence at Montevino as their senior wine advisor, although he did not feature on the Montevino Partners' website as one of their wine experts. There was no mention of Moore on the Montevino Partners' site.

Michael Moore – an update
Following a trial
at Maidstone Crown Court that started in mid-November 2016 , Michael Moore was found guilty of fraud on 8th December 2016. The verdict was unanimous. The fraud charges related to previous companies that Moore had been involved in. There were no charges involving Montevino Partners. On 19th January 2017 Moore was sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Interestingly Thomas White claimed in an email to Action Fraud, following complaints from clients of Montevino Partners who have not received their wine, that he hadn't been aware until recently of the seriousness of the charges against Michael Moore. Their seriousness had recently 'popped up'.... 

I can only assume that White had not read the Kent-on-Line report on the pending case (15.4.15). 'Due to the severity of the alleged offences the case was transferred to the town's crown court where both men will appear on May 1. No pleas were entered.'   
  
By early May 2016 White was certainly well aware that Moore was facing fraud charges as he responded to my post (2.5.2016) on Montevino Partners. 

Mr White appears to have an interesting take on the seriousness of a fraud charge.

There are a number of questions that need to be asked about Michael Moore's time at Montevino Partners. These include what exactly was his role and when did he cease to be involved, did he place orders for wine and did he liaise with bonded warehouses. Furthermore when did White become aware of the fraud charges against Moore and how and to what extent did White, as sole director, supervise Moore's work, especially given that Montevino was seeking to persuade clients to invest their money in wines proposed by the company. It appears that Michael Moore may well have made absurdly high profit claims along with the possibility that such profits could be realised in just six months.


The continuing history of Montevino Partners:
This should be read in conjunction with my earlier post on The Mysteries of Montevino Partners. 


Following the compulsory winding up in London High Court of Spirited Ventures Ltd trading as Montevino Partners, a second company – Montevino Partners Ltd – took over the Montevino Partners' trading name.

Spirited Ventures Ltd (incorporated 19.7.2013) goes bust and is then wound up in the High Court. On 26th July Spirited Ventures Ltd went into liquidation. Ninos Koumettou of Alexander Lawson Jacobs, Winchmore Hill, London N21 3NA was appointed director. In the statement of affairs Thomas White, as the sole director in place, listed the company's assets and debts as:  


Assets: £200 – stock of wine: 'uncertain'!

Spirited Ventures' deficiency:£691,326.93 

     
The main creditors were listed as Trade & Expense owed £233,177.16 and £155,694 to HMRC (UK tax authorities)  plus a director's loan of £208,869 from White. Australian wine producer Clarendon Hills in for £210,601 was the largest trade creditor. Very curiously Thomas White did not list any private clients as being owed wine in the statement of affairs, which he drew up and signed. 

This is particularly curious as stocks of wine are listed as 'uncertain'. Furthermore a number of clients were owed substantial amounts of wine

These included DL, a private client who had bought £46,362 worth of wine through Michel Moore which had not been delivered to the bonded warehouse, despite sending solicitor's letters to the company demanding delivery. White was certainly aware that DL had not received this wine as he responded to an email that DL sent to him on 15th March 2016.  

Client AC was another. They had invested just over £100,000 – their entire life savings. There were also other private clients who had not received their wine.  

Because Thomas White did not list any private clients, those private clients, who were owed wine, were not informed of the creditors' meeting... There were only three creditors at the 26th July meeting – one of them being White due to his director's loan.

Why did White not list these clients as creditors of Spirited Ventures? It surely can't have slipped his mind! One has to suspect that either White knowingly made a false statement of affairs (26.7.2016) or he failed to ascertain the true number of creditors and the true level of debt before signing and submitting the statement of affairs.  

I have asked White why wine not delivered to private clients of Montevino Partners was not included in the statement of affairs for Spirited Ventures Ltd. White has yet to provide any explanation.  

It may well be that Thomas White, although the sole director after 28th May 2014, played a minor role in the first version of Montevino Partners.   

I trust that the liquidator, Ninos Koumettou of Alexander Lawson Jacobs, once apprised that there were other creditors not listed on the statement of affairs, has demanded a full explanation from Thomas White.    

At the meeting held on 26th July 2016 at the offices of Alexander Lawson Jacobs 'creditors were told that a company, Montevino Partners Ltd, a company also controlled by the director Mr Thomas White had expressed an interest in the miscellaneous equipment, website and goodwill of the company'.      

Compulsory wind-up
Understandably HMRC were unhappy at being owed £155,000 and successfully petitioned in London's High Court to have the company wound up. The petition (presented 30.6.16) wasn't contested and the order to wind up was made on 15th August 2016.

The rise and apparent fall Montevino Partners Ltd 
Montevino Partners Ltd was incorporated on 17th April 2014. The accounts to 30th April 2015 were for a dormant company with the first active accounts made up to 30th April 2016 when the company made a small loss of £6360. 

What I wonder was the purpose of setting up Montevino Partners Ltd as a dormant company in April 2014. White told me in May 2016 that 'we bought Spirited Ventures Ltd' from Martin Edgerton Gill and John Jeffrey. Although Jeffrey was the original director when the company was set up in July 2013, the firm's capital was just £1. There is no evidence at Companies House of Gill ever being a director or shareholder of Spirited Ventures Ltd.  

White became a director of Spirited Ventures Ltd on 19.5.2014 and Jeffrey resigned on 28.5.2014.

On 4th May 2016 I asked White where was the evidence that Gill was either a director of a shareholder of the company. I have yet to receive a response.  
 
Montevino Partners Ltd seamlessly became Montevino Partners. The website, which was registered on 9th January 2014, remained largely the same. There was certainly no indication that the original company had gone into liquidation with debts probably well in excess of £800,000.


Website promoted their 'expertise': 'Wine Investment Specialist', 
'have the platform and the guidance', 'improve our service'.

Unfortunately it appears that the second version of Montevino Partners will be short lived with Montevino Partners Ltd seeming set to be put into liquidation with an unknown level of debt.

The MVP Wine Club – 'flying pig territory'
However, not to be downhearted Thomas White is now preparing a third version of Montevino Partners, although the name is 'open to discussion'. White has presented his 'Business Plan for the resurrection of of the fine wine platform' to private creditors of Montevino Partners Ltd inviting them to invest in the new venture as a way of getting their money back. A business proposal was sent out by Tom White at the beginning of February 2017 to a number but not all of the clients of Montevino Partners


MVP Wine Club is intended to be a mix of wine events, wine retail, imports and to offer advice as well as a fine wine platform. There is mention of 'a collective wine portfolio' worth some £1.5 million. 


Amazingly White has projected sales of £1.7 million in 2017 (or Year 1)*, £1.96 million in 2018 (Year 2) and £2.05 in 2019 (Year 3).  
 
White's remuneration for producing this remarkable success story will be £84,500 in 2017, £53,500 in 2018 and £36,000 in 2019 – totaling £174,000 over the three years. White has subsequently suggested that his remuneration in the first year could be cut to £60,000.

Some private investor clients of Montevino Partners are sufficiently angry to have filed complaints with Action Fraud. Others, however, praise White for sticking around and attempting to find a solution to recoup the losses incurred through the first two companies that traded as Montevino Partners. 


MVP is surely flying pig territory. There is nothing in Thomas White's history as a director to show that he is capable of running a successful company and with five company directorships he has had some practice....:

Spirited Ventures Ltd: bust and then wound up in London's High Court. White has claimed that it was Michael Moore's pending fraud trial that sunk the company and that previously
Montevino Partners was ’a good firm early on and was doing some good stuff’ and 'Montevino's first 18 Months were very good'. This is not borne out by the sole set of accounts filed for Spirited Ventures Ltd. The accounts to 31.7.2014 showed a loss of £165,000 with £188,069 owed to yourself as a director’s loan. The accounts were filed in White's name.
Wine Genie Ltd: Dormant company – first accounts overdue since 9th January 2017
8 Wine Club Ltd: no accounts filed – compulsory strike off.
Influx Global Ltd: dissolved no accounts or annual returns filed.
Montevino Partners Ltd: looks to be headed for liquidation.

I fear any of Montevino Partners clients, who do invest in White's new venture, will only be throwing good money after bad.

Instead the troubled history of  Monetvino Partners should be fully investigated by the Insolvency Service.
In particular why was the statement of affairs for Spirited Ventures Ltd signed off by Thomas White incomplete at best as no private creditors were listed and what happened to the money that investors paid to Montevino Partners but have received no wine.