Eight people have been convicted for their part in the operation of a Ucis that led to 110 investors losing £4.3m.
The conviction is a result of the FCA’s Operation Cotton, one of the largest investigations ever run by the regulator.
Five of the convicted individuals – Scott Crawley, Dale Walker, Daniel Forsyth, Aaron Petrou and Ross Peters – have been sentenced to a total of 26 years’ immediate imprisonment.
Brendan Daley and Ricky Mitchie were given suspended sentences while Adam Hawkins is awaiting sentencing.
Between July 2008 and November 2011 investors were convinced to purchase agricultural land at “vastly inflated” prices and promised substantial profits.
But none of the investors have seen a return.
The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to defraud, breaching the general prohibition by conducting investment business without FCA authorisation, aiding and abetting a breach of the general prohibition, possessing criminal property, and providing false and misleading information to the regulator in a compelled interview.
The solicitor to the scheme – Dale Walker – received nearly £900,000 from the scam.
Forsyth had his sentenced extended by 15 months because he lied to the FCA in a “compelled” interview, while Peters also breached a restraint order obtained by the FCA.
Part of his breach involved moving over £237,000 from bank accounts and selling Rolex watches and two racehorses.
In sentencing, Judge Leonard QC said the operation was “a subtle and cruel fraud because it involves the concept of owning land, a commodity that the public are bound to think has value and on which they cannot lose and on which they can easily be persuaded that they can make very substantial profits.”
FCA acting director of enforcement and market oversight Georgina Philippou says: “The FCA will take strong action, through both the civil and criminal courts, against those who operate illegal investment schemes and those who assist them like solicitors.
“People put their homes and retirements at risk on the back of promises of high returns that were never going to be realised. The severity of the sentences shows how seriously the courts view this kind of offending.”