"Fast cars are in my blood": When The Yorkshire Post met Leeds' £9million fraudster Jason Butler

It's been a spectacular fall from grace for one of the biggest names in the Yorkshire property market.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 27th March 2018, 12:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th March 2018, 1:15 pm
Jason Butler
Jason Butler

Jason Butler - founder of controversial estate agency Jump and landlord of nearly 100 properties in Leeds - was this week convicted of a £9.8million fraud and sentenced to nine years in jail.

The 46-year-old businessman created hundreds of false invoices to steal millions of pounds in VAT and tried to hide the scam in a complex trading chain involving companies in the UK, Gibraltar, Spain and the US. The proceeds funded his lavish lifestyle, which included a home in Marbella and a fleet of supercars.

But back in the heady days of 2003, with the property boom in full swing and the recession yet to bite, life was sweet for self-made Butler. The Park Lane College graduate grew up above his parents' fish and chip shop, left school at 16 and became a partner in finance firm J Rothschild Assurance when he was just 21.

Jason Butler

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The Yorkshire Post sat down with Butler, then 31 and a married father of two children, in his plush Leeds office to interview him about his success.

At the time, he was driving a Porsche Turbo and gave his favourite film as Heat - a 1995 crime thriller about a professional thief who robs $1.6 million in bearer bonds from an armoured car.

But the bubble was soon to burst for Jump - it went into administration in 2005 with significant debts, blaming a downturn in the market.

Butler owned several Ferraris and a Rolls Royce

The company agreed to give undertakings to the Office of Fair Trading after a series of customer complaints. It was in consultation with the OFT from 2004, and collapsed a year later.

Angry creditors were left thousands of pounds out of pocket but a deal saw its assets sold to company founder and former managing director Butler, who was a shareholder in the business.

The deal meant staff kept their jobs and the collapse was blamed on the downturn in the housing market which left the firm unable to pay its bills. Its debts at the time were put at £4.5million.

Butler formed a new company – Jazbut plc – which continued to trade as Jump.

Butler owned several Ferraris

The OFT was advised that it was Butler’s intention that Jazbut plc should provide the OFT with identical undertakings to those being sought from his former company, Jump Group Ltd.

Butler's name cropped up again in 2008, when he was criticised for his apparent neglect of a Grade II-listed building.

He purchased the historic York Road Baths, a swimming pool and library built in 1903 but disused since the 1970s, from the council in 2005, with the intention of developing the site into office space.

By 2008, work had still not begun and the building had become derelict and a magnet for vandalism and petty crime. Planning permission for an office conversion had been initially granted in 2004, but building control applications submitted to Leeds City Council in 2005 and 2007 were rejected and withdrawn respectively.

Jason Butler

At the time, Butler described the project as 'very difficult' and said that a larger developer had expressed interest in buying the site. The owners of listed buildings are required by law to maintain them.

The baths later passed into the ownership of property firm Rushbond, who have recently submitted plans to restore them and open a gym on the premises.

Here is the full 2003 interview:

"You wouldn't like to get in a race at the traffic lights with this guy: he's young, ambitious and successful – and he knows it.

Immaculately turned out and sitting at a shiny office desk in a new business park on the outskirts of Leeds, 31-year-old Jason Butler explains that he's had two burning ambitions since childhood – to run his own company and to drive fast cars.

And he didn't waste any time in getting into gear to achieve his two goals, which complement each other beautifully. By the age of 22, the Leeds lad, who grew up above his parents' fish and chip shop and then a series of pubs, had started a company which now has a turnover of £35million and big plans for rapid expansion. And by the age of 23, Butler had spent £75,000 on a beloved Ferrari.

Butler owned several Ferraris and a Rolls Royce

The company he presides over is Jump – called Homestarter for seven years, before he decided something snappier was needed. The concept behind it is to provide first-time buyers with a radical alternative to estate agents. Butler founded it in 1995, when virgin buyers were finding it hard to get on to the property ladder while, at the same time, there was a bank of houses waiting to be sold.

Homestarter therefore provided loans for deposits and arranged 95 per cent mortgages for young buyers. At the same time, the company offered vendors a fixed price sale inclusive of financial, legal and estate agency services. Butler found this got things moving.

"It went down a storm because I had identified a gap in the market," he says. "There were a lot of people in Leeds and Yorkshire who had houses to sell that were sticking.

"At the same time there were first-time buyers who wanted to buy them but didn't have the means to - they didn't have the deposit or they found the market confusing – they literally wanted hand-holding."

So, in what Butler claims is the first of its kind in the country, the company offers a one-stop shop for property transactions, even operating special policies such as a "no gazumping" promise.

Since then, at the same time as amassing a collection of spectacular racing and sports cars – at the moment he owns two Mercedes, two Porsches and a Harley Davison – Butler has opened 10 branches throughout West Yorkshire. But he is not at the finishing line yet: he says he aims to retire within four years in the happy knowledge that Jump has become a major national brand.

More specifically, he aims to open at least two branches a month for the next two years until there are 80 across the UK and 450 staff working in them.

And he's more confident than ever that his ambitious plans are not going to backfire because he has just secured £8million in funding – through London development capital firm BP Marsh & Co – to carry them out. This fellow is just revving up.

It comes as no surprise that Butler has had a few fights on his hands while setting something up which so clearly puts noses out of joint in the property business. He jokes that faces would turn white if he were to attend a social function for estate agents. And he recounts a time when a lot of 'underhand' tactics were used to try and discredit his firm.

On one occasion, leaflets were distributed to a swathe of households warning occupants to steer clear of Homestarter and its radical ways. Butler organised a swift mail-out in response which he says 'explained' matters more clearly.

"The estate agents don't welcome us. I hold no grudge and think they do a fantastic job – but their methods are outdated.

"We have had battles with everyone – all fighting our modus operandi. I'm glad to say we have won those battles but there has been many a time I thought I would have to take the traditional route like the estate agents. But it wasn't really me."

Butler seems undaunted by the challenge of taking on an entire industry - in fact, he clearly relishes it. He has always had a strong sense of his own ability and a clear sense of direction.

When he made his first leap into self-employment at the age of 19 people thought he was mad. He had left school at 16, and qualified as an accountant while working for a small firm in Masham, where his parents ran a pub. After a brief spell at Leeds practice Penny & Co, he determined to make the break and become a financial adviser.

"I was a quick learner and got bored quickly. After three years I was advancing more quickly than the firms would allow me to," he explains, "Much to my parents' horror I decided to make a break and go on my own.

"They were horrified but being strong-minded, I broke away anyway."

His parents now work for him at Jump – his mother in one of the branches and his father in the firm's maintenance division.

Butler's unwavering self-belief was justified. After a couple of years working as an adviser under the banner of Allied Dunbar Assurance, he was headhunted by the Leeds branch of J Rothschild Assurance, the breakaway arm of Allied Dunbar. Within a year he became the youngest partner in the firm – an achievement of which he is still extremely proud.

"I had a fantastic career there. I became the youngest person to be a partner at the age of 21.

"I knew there was nobody as young as me there and knew if I could make partner level it would be a great achievement for me."

When J Rothschild floated on the stock market a year later, he cashed in some of his share options – and gave 50 per cent of them to HBOS bank to secure an overdraft for Homestarter. In total, he made about £100,000 out of the J Rothschild listing.

Butler doesn't feel a stock market flotation is appropriate for Jump – but he is already on the lookout for a trade buyer.

He says he is likely to hold on to a stake but would like to start another business, either in property or - no surprises, here - racing cars.

He says: "There are some things you are born with. Fast cars are in my blood. I have been driving my parents mad about them since I was two."

But the father-of-two stresses that whatever he does it will be strictly as a hobby - something to occupy him in his retirement.

He is even playing with the idea of racing on a full-time basis himself – an idea which might not thrill his wife, who banned him from motorbikes after a serious accident in 1994.

"I would like to retire by the time I'm 35. I'm a big believer in goal-setting," he says again. "I'll do something in property - or possibly selling high-class, expensive Ferraris to high net-worth individuals.

"But whatever I do, I would like to do it at my leisure."

Butler owned several Ferraris