The Britain-born, St. Vincent and the Grenadines naturalized citizen, Dave Ames, has been sentenced to 12 years in jail for running what a judge described as a “gigantic Ponzi scheme” in the Caribbean.
Ames, the former chairman of Harlequin, the company that owned the former Buccament Bay Resort in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is also wanted in the Caribbean island on tax evasion and theft charges.
He was sentenced in the British court to nine years for one count of fraud by abuse of position and three years for another count. The sentences will run consecutively.
Last month, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the United Kingdom successfully prosecuted Ames, who was behind the fraud involving celebrity-endorsed luxury resorts in the Caribbean, including Buccament Bay Resort.
In handing down his sentence on Friday, Justice Christopher Hehir described Ames as a “slick salesman and thoroughly dishonest with it”
He said that Harlequin’s sales material was “full of ambiguous, false, and misleading claims in his name.
“The prosecution was careful not to use the word before the jury, but the plain truth is that from January 2010 the operation was a gigantic Ponzi scheme and could only keep going by attracting new investors and you knew they would almost inevitably lose everything.
The judge said Ames had no relevant experience entering the property business, noting “you had sold garden furniture and double glazing and been in the loan business but were twice declared bankrupt, a fact you did not readily declare to those whose money you were after.
In presenting its case, the FSO said a jury at Southwark Crown Court found Ames, 70, guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position. He offered no evidence in his defense.
An SFO investigation uncovered how Ames deceived over 8,000 British investors in the Harlequin Group, a hotel, and resorts development venture. Victims were led to believe they had a secure investment in a property whereas, in reality, Harlequin Group was never operating as promised, the press release said.
The business model relied upon investors paying a 30 percent deposit to purchase an unbuilt villa or hotel room, half of which went toward fees for Harlequin and relevant salespeople, while Harlequin put the remaining 15 percent toward construction.
Investors were fraudulently told that the building of the properties would be further funded by external financial backing. With no additional source of funding, three properties needed to be purchased to finance just one of the luxury accommodation units.
This led to the exponential expansion of the scheme, the diversion of investor money between resorts and a funding shortfall of over 1.2 billion pounds (One British pound=US$1.11 cents) by 2012 — seven years after Ames launched the scheme.
Throughout the entire eight-year project, only 28 of over 8,000 investors ever completed on a purchase, leaving well over 99 percent with no return on their investment. The Harlequin Group lost a total of 398 million pounds of investor funds.
In 2020, the government acquired the former Buccament Bay Resort, which was closed in December 2016, and sold it, as well as additional surrounding lands to the Jamaica-based Sandals Resort International for US$17.5 million.