Bogus Yorkshire investment gang left victims in poverty

From left, Keith Wharton, Lee Wharton and Stephen Pickard'.
From left, Keith Wharton, Lee Wharton and Stephen Pickard'.

The Whartons, solicitor Stephen Pickard and financial advisor Simon Kippax stole £5 million from victims who they conned into putting money into bogus investment schemes.

In one scam Keith Wharton managed to convince people to put money in a land scheme based in Panama after claiming to be a property ‘guru’ and a billionaire.

He arranged for potential investors to fly out to the central American country for a seminar entitled ‘Secrets of the Super Rich’.

Wharton, who was close to bankruptcy when he carried out the offences, told those who invested in land through a syndicate that they could double their money within 12 months.

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Prosecutor Andrew Haslam told Leeds Crown Court at a trial in 2016 that there were over 30 investors in the Panama land fraud and they invested a total of £2.8m.

He said: “None of them received any return on their investment. Indeed, nobody even received their investment back.

“None of it went to buy land in Panama. Instead, Keith and Lee Wharton used it to fund their lavish lifestyles.”

One victim, a piano teacher from London, invested £230,000 in the scheme and now lives in poverty after losing all the money.

Wharton was helped in the deception by Leeds-based solicitor Stephen Pickard, who “put up a barrier” to stop investors getting their money back.

Pickard threatened victims with legal action if they continued to try to contact Wharton to get their money back.

Wharton also led other frauds with help of financial adviser Kippax.

Kippax introduced a retired businessman Wharton with the promise that he would be offered 100 per protection on an investment that would guarantee him a 300 per cent return in just 12 weeks.

He lost £1.1m on his investment in the scheme.

In another offence Wharton duped victim Gary Gordon to invest after convincing him he had worked for Merrill Lynch, the major wealth management firm based in New York.

Mr Haslam described one meeting between Wharton and Mr Gordon which took place in Majorca.

He said: “He explained how he had grown up as a working class boy in Leeds.

“He worked his way up in life to an 80 bedroomed mansion on a hill in Majorca on which Peter Stringfellow also lived.

“He said he had 12 yachts. He told Mr Gordon that he paid his wife £20,000 each month to buy the finer things in life.”

He added: “When Mr Gordon returned to the UK, he met up with Pickard to discuss the property deal.

“Nothing ever came of it. Mr Gordon was fobbed off with excuse after excuse just like others before and after him.”

Mr Gordon’s money was paid into an account controlled by Wharton’s son.

Wharton also headed other illegal investment schemes in which investors lost sums totalling £1.7m and £563,000.

Keith Wharton, of Park House Apartments, Leeds, was jailed for 12 years after pleading guilty to five offences of fraud by false representation.

The three other defendants were found guilty of offences after a trial which lasted five months.

Lee Wharton, 34, also of Park House Apartments, was jailed for seven years after being found guilty of concealing criminal property.

Pickard, 66, of Belgrave Road, Harrogate, was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of two offences of fraud by false representation and concealing criminal property. Kippax, 52, of Moorcock Lane, Darley, Harrogate, was jailed for seven years after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation and making a false statement

Kane Pigford.

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