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Bromley conmen jailed for £35m land banking fraud
CONMEN who tricked investors into paying £35m for almost worthless plots of land in a “grotesque, cynical and merciless” fraud have been jailed for more than 26 years.
Christopher Demetriou and Stephen Allan, both aged 30, and 29-year-olds Daniel Webster and Steven Percival duped more than 400 clients into the swindle with promises of vast profits.
The ruthless crooks duped one woman, whose husband was diagnosed with cancer, out of more than £600,000 in the 'land banking' scam.
Other victims of the gang, who hid behind false names and front companies, lost their homes and suffered nervous breakdowns.
Potential buyers were told the plots were to be used for the Olympics and were enticed with glossy brochures between 2005 and 2010.
Judge Martin Beddoe said: “In short this was a grotesque, cynical and merciless fraud conducted by the greedy who could not have failed to have realised the very great damage they were doing.”
He said the four men had treated investors as “contemptible prey to be chewed up and contemptibly spat out”, adding: “Many, many people have been ruined or brought very close to ruin by this con.”
Webster, of Southborough Road, Bromley, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail, having pocketed around £260,000 from the fraud.
Allan, of Langham Park Place, Bromley, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years and slammed by Judge Beddoe for the “fake care and concern” he employed to trick the wife of cancer sufferer David Wright.
Percival, of Brenchley Close, Chislehurst, who netted around £207,000, was also jailed for six-and-a-half years.
They were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by a jury at Southwark Crown Court on Friday (March 8).
Demetriou (pictured above), from Ilford, Essex, who earlier admitted conspiracy to defraud investors, was described as a “dominant figure” in the fraud.
He was jailed for six years and four months after the court heard he set up five companies to launder almost £9m of the profits and personally netted around £2m.
He used the pseudonym Chris Anthony, Webster gave himself the surname Legend, and Allan called himself George Hackett and even set up a front company Allan and Hackett Ltd, named after himself and his alter-ego.
Percival named himself after Spiderman star Toby Maguire as he gave the aggressive sales pitch to lure customers into the web of deceit.
The con artists sold almost worthless land for grossly inflated prices, promising rich rewards to investors and drawing up a brochure showing a “wholly unrealistic” housing project.
Cancer sufferer Mr Wright and his wife Sandra-May were among those sucked into the scheme, investing a total of £628,013 in Countrywide Land after being promised hefty profits in return for buying land.
One of the areas they were urged to buy a plot in was Meopham.
This land could never be built on as it is classified as green belt.
The scam eventually unravelled after probes by police, trading standards and the Financial Services Authority, as well as 2010 exposes in the Mail on Sunday.
Raids of the trio's homes in the Bromley borough revealed a host of fake passports, paperwork under aliases and details of their victims.