A solicitor has been jailed for his part in a collective investment scheme which defrauded 110 investors of more than £4.3m.
Dale Walker, solicitor for the scheme, pocketed nearly £900,000 for his role in the fraud and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
Walker, whose Kent practice was closed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in February 2014, was one of eight people convicted following a case brought by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Between July 2008 and November 2011 the defendants were involved in the operation of an unauthorised collective investment scheme through three companies: Plott Investments Ltd, which changed its name to Plott UK Ltd, European Property Investments (UK) Ltd, and Stirling Alexander Ltd.
Salesmen for the companies cold-called potential investors to sell them agricultural land that the companies had bought for minimal amounts as well as land the companies did not own.
Using sales scripts, misleading promotional material, and high-pressure sales techniques, they lied about the current and future value of the land. People were persuaded to purchase land at a vastly inflated price, on the false promise of a substantial profit which they never saw.
Walker was convicted by a jury of one count of aiding and abetting the carrying on of a regulated activity without authorisation and one count of possessing criminal property.
In sentencing, Judge Leonard QC said Walker had ‘deliberately frustrated and delayed’ the FCA’s investigation and that his conduct was worse because of his position as a solicitor.
The judge added that the scheme was a ‘very substantial and deliberate fraud’ that had been ‘subtle and cruel’ for its victims.
The investigation, named Operation Cotton, was one of the largest ever undertaken by the FCA, and was assisted by the City of London Police and Insolvency Service.
It is likely Walker will now be made subject to a prosecution by the SRA.