Fraudster who sold same forests ‘over and over again’ has sentence extended
Posted on 3rd February 2020 at 21:12
Court told that fraud involved 143 investors who were offered investment opportunity in the Irish forestry sector
A fraudster who sold the same two forests in Co Roscommon “over and over again” to unsuspecting investors has been given an extra two years in jail on foot of an appeal by prosecutors.
Garret Hevey (43) used the pseudonym James Baker, when he incorporated Arden Forestry Management Limited, which offered investment opportunity in the Irish forestry sector, in November 2013.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that €5.5 million from 143 investors passed through an AIB bank account in Dún Laoghaire between the account’s opening in January 2014, and it’s freezing in June 2016.
Gardaí began investigating the company when one of the investors discovered that Arden FML was not the registered owner of the land in which he had invested €52,000.
The investor had asked to visit what had been identified as his investment at which point an email was sent to Hevey by his coaccused saying “shit, he wants to visit the land registry, how do we get over that?”.
The Finnish investor was taken to a forest in Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, but when he asked to go to the land registry he was told there was no time. Upon returning home to Greece, the investor carried out his own inquiries with the land registry and was “dismayed” to find the land registered to someone else.
Hevey, of Brookdene, Shankill, Dublin 18, pleaded guilty to one count of dishonestly inducing investment in Arden FML between January 1st, 2014 and June 13th, 2016 and three counts of inducing individuals by deception to make payments on dates between September 2015 and May 2016.
He was sentenced to five years imprisonment with the final year suspended by Judge Melanie Greally on July 27th, 2019 which was found to be “unduly lenient” by the Court of Appeal on Monday.
Resentencing Hevey to six years imprisonment, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said Arden FML could not be regarded as anything other than “an engine of fraud” because false names were used when the business of the company commenced.
Mr Justice McCarthy said the same two forests, located in Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, were being sold “over an over again” by Arden FML.
If the monies had been used for the intended purposes, he said 858 acres of forestry should have been acquired but in reality, the company purchased a mere 30.2 acres of forest.
The minimum permissible investment was £10,400 (€12,226), which afforded the investor two acres of forest land, while the largest individual investment was €491,381.
Mr Justice McCarthy said Arden FML attracted investors through Google Ads and their marketing campaign targeted overseas investors, who would have had limited knowledge of the Irish forestry sector.
They were provided with an “impressive looking” investor pack which included a brochure containing unauthorised endorsements from AIB, Confor, FBD and Forest Sale Ireland.
It used a virtual office with an address at 629 Trinity Street, Dublin, and with an associated phone number. The company also issued fraudulent timber certificates from a non-existent forestry company, Forest Sales Limited.
Mr Justice McCarthy said investors were given false folio numbers, which were taken from genuine purchases of land, but the same numbers were “used and re-used”.
He said the company also offered a £500 reward to investors who attracted new investors.
Payments slightly in excess of €270,000 were paid out to investors in the form of purported government grants and thinning payments. Investors were paid using the monies of later investments because the 30.2 acres which had been purchased were not eligible for government grants.
Investigations showed that Hevey received payments of €501,332 from the AIB account, of which €281,613 was spent on Google Ads.
In addition, €1.5 million was transferred to an account in the United Arab Emirates, the two beneficiaries of which (the account) were Hevey and his coaccused.
Hevey also accepted that he had a connection to a company called ‘Clarence’ and there was evidence that £60,000 had been transferred to it.
Sentencing Hevey to six years imprisonment, Mr Justice McCarthy said “fraudulent conduct of the present kind” must fall into the most serious category of offending.
He said the sentencing judge erred in selecting a headline sentence lower than “in or about nine years”, where the maximum is 10 years.
Mr Justice McCarthy said the sentencing judge also fell into error by attaching too much weight to the mitigating factors. He said a two year reduction from the headline sentence would have been appropriate for Hevey’s “relatively late” guilty plea and the other mitigating factors.
Hevey had a lengthy history of employment in national and international companies and he enjoyed the respect of former colleagues. He had no relevant previous convictions and testimonials spoke to his qualities as a husband and father as well as his engagement with charitable concerns.
A further 12 months was taken off in circumstances where Hevey may “have hoped for and been working towards a release date after four years” in jail, the judge said.
Mr Justice McCarthy, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Brian McGovern, said a significantly higher sentence than six years may have been appropriate at first sentence.
The court did not think it appropriate to suspend any portion of the sentence, the judge added.
Hevey’s coaccused, David Peile (42) of Avondale Court, Ballyguile, in Wicklow, pleaded guilty to dishonestly inducing investment in Arden FML between January 1st, 2014 and June 13th, 2016 and guilty to two charges of of inducing individuals by deception to make payments on dates between September 2015 and May 2016.
Peile, who was second in charge and who sometimes went by the name David Marshall, was sentenced to four years imprisonment with the final year suspended by Judge Greally. No appeal has been lodged in respect of Peile’s sentence.
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