Court told of 'well-targeted scam' to sell Ritz Hotel
A plot to sell the Ritz Hotel in London was a "simple but well-targeted and ambitious scam", a court has heard.
Conn Farrell, 57, Patrick Dolan, 68, and Anthony Lee, 49, are accused of trying to sell the landmark hotel in Piccadilly for £250m.
The men "sucked in" their carefully chosen victims by offering them false promises of a deal described as "complete fantasy", Southwark Crown Court was told.
All three deny conspiracy to defraud.
Mr Dolan, of Philip Lane, Tottenham, Mr Farrell, of Cambridge Road, Aldershot, Hampshire, and Mr Lee, of Broad Lane, Goole, East Yorkshire, are accused of defrauding Terence Collins and Marcel Boerkhoorn between January 2006 and March 2007.
Prosecuting, Anuja Dhir QC told the court the trio "chose their marks well", targeting people who were interested in the high-stakes world of dealing in trophy properties.
She said: "The prosecution case is that these three defendants were each involved in a simple but well-targeted and ambitious scam.
"They promised their targets something that seemed to be too good to be true - the opportunity to buy the Ritz Hotel and Casino in Piccadilly for the bargain price of £250m.
"As the negotiations progressed, they sucked their victims in with more false promises and frustrated them with unnecessary requests until they managed to extract from them a payment of £1m."
Mr Lee and Mr Dolan pretended they had the ability to arrange the sale of The Ritz, while Mr Farrell acted as their solicitor, giving their claims a "veneer of legitimacy" by telling Mr Collins he had the contracts for the sale when he did not, Ms Dhir said.
The trio told their victims they knew the billionaire Barclay brothers, the owners of The Ritz, and could buy the hotel and casino for just £200m. They claimed they would then sell it on to Mr Collins' firm, London Allied, for £250m.
Ms Dhir said the deal was "a very attractive proposition" as the offer was more than half of the actual value of the hotel which was between £450m and £600m.
The plot began in 2006 when Mr Dolan asked chartered surveyor Christian Sweeting if he knew of any hotels in London that might be for sale, at which Mr Sweeting said The Ritz could be a potential candidate, the court heard.
In 2007, Mr Dolan and Mr Lee met Mr Sweeting and asked if he would provide them with a letter suggesting the hotel was looking for buyers, but they were told that this would be possible if there was a formal offer.
Mr Lee then met Karen Maguire, a director of a firm which finds properties for private clients, and said he had access to a contract to buy The Ritz for £200m, and planned to make a £50m profit by selling it on. He also promised to give her a cut of the profit if she found a buyer.
The Ritz sale plot was code-named "Project Notting Hill".
In October 2006 Mr Farrell told Mr Collins that his clients, the two other defendants, had accepted a higher offer for the Ritz which Ms Dhir said was intended to inject "a sense of urgency and perhaps to ensure that Mr Collins remained keen".
The trial continues.