Two men who masterminded 3m deception of elderly and vulnerable people become first in Britain to be jailed for land banking fraud
Omar Eshpari and Stefan Mitchell set up a string of fraudulent companiesThey conned people into buying land that was worthless or over-pricedThey were jailed for seven and six years respectively todayCommander Steve Head said it was a 'landmark moment' for combating and preventing fraud
21:51 GMT, 6 December 2012
Two men have become the first in Britain to be jailed for land banking fraud today after conning elderly and vulnerable people out of 3million.
Omar Eshpari, 33, and Stefan Mitchell, 42, masterminded the deception, conning people into buying plots of land that were either worthless or massively over-priced.
A string of fraudulent companies were set up and sold land bought cheaply across England or plots they did not even own.
First in Britain: Omar Eshpari (left) and Stefan Mitchell (right) were jailed for seven and six years respectively for masterminding a 3million deception in a 'landmark moment' for police in the fight to prevent fraud
The locations were marketed as being in a prime position for development and would quickly increase in value.
In reality, investors were putting their money into plots located on farmland, in the Green Belt, within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or on the sides of hills, with no chance of gaining planning permission let alone building houses.
Some received small returns while others lost everything, with the duo funnelling off the funds into a network of bank accounts.
Over a two-year period, more than 300 victims fell foul of the gang. Among the victims was an elderly man who was suffering from terminal cancer losing almost 300,000 and a retired woman who was conned out of 373,000.
Eshpari, from Enfield, north London, and Mitchell, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, used virtual offices with London addresses and professionally-produced brochures and websites to legitimise their operation.
Cold-calling and high-pressure sale tactics were put into play to target and then bully people into buying into their scheme.
/12/06/article-2244190-1649D2B8000005DC-497_634x374.jpg” width=”634″ height=”374″ alt=”Prosecutor Luke Dockwray told Isleworth Crown Court (pictured) that 'only a miracle would produce a development opportunity, let alone a profit' from the land the men claimed to be selling” class=”blkBorder” />
No profit: Prosecutor Luke Dockwray told Isleworth Crown Court (pictured) that 'only a miracle would produce a development opportunity, let alone a profit' from the land the men claimed to be selling
But following reports from numerous
victims and a detailed City of London Police investigation, working
closely with agencies including Companies Investigation Branch and the
Financial Services Authority, a series of arrests were made in October
Eshpari and Mitchell were jailed for seven and six years respectively at London's Isleworth Crown Court today.
Commander Steve Head said: ‘The UK's first land banking fraud convictions is a landmark moment for all those committed to combating and preventing fraud, and sends out a clear message to the criminal community that law enforcement is wise to their new tricks and is taking decisive action.’
Detective constable David Parkinson, from the City of London Police, said: ‘Eshpari and Mitchell preyed on the vulnerable, exploiting their desire to put their savings in something tangible that would provide them with long-term security.
‘They cared not from whom they stole, but only for what they could take.
High-pressure sale tactics: The men targeted and bullied people into buying into the scheme, convincing people into buying plots of farmland (stock picture) that were either worthless or massively over-priced
‘Plots of land that were good for nothing and worth a fraction of the asking price were marketed as a sound investment with planning permissions in the pipeline and development round the corner.
‘The gang used all the tricks of the trade to give the appearance of legitimacy, picked off their targets over the phone and then disappeared without trace with their savings.
‘A complex and painstaking investigation by the City of London Police has ensured Eshpari and Mitchell have now been made to pay for the deception they created and the damage they caused.’
Luke Dockwray, prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service central fraud division, said: ‘Far from being ripe for development, one site in Halifax was on a 40-degree slope with Tree Preservation Orders and a Japanese Knotweed problem.
‘All the land consisted of undivided plots in fields; only a miracle would produce a development opportunity, let alone a profit.’
Land banking fraud has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with fraudsters swapping shares in a company for plots of land as a way to entice people into making an investment.
Victims are led to believe the land is ripe for development and can only go up in value.
The reality is that it is worth a fraction of what it is being marketed at, or even nothing at all, and the people they have trusted with their savings are, in fact, highly-skilled criminals.