Harrogate duo jailed for 15 years as gang found guilty of multi-million pound fraud

Stephen Pickard
Stephen Pickard

Two Harrogate men have been jailed for a combined 15 years after being part of a gang that was found guilty of investment fraud totalling more than £5m.

Stephen Pickard, 56 from Harrogate, was sentenced to eight years for Fraud and Money Laundering, and 52 year old Simon Kippax, also from Harrogate, got seven years for Fraud and a Regulatory Offence.

Lee Wharton (s)

Lee Wharton (s)

Sixty year old Keith Wharton, who previously lived in Tadcaster and Spain, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at Leeds Crown Court yesterday, Thursday 10 November 2016. He was convicted of five counts of fraud and a count of obtaining money by false representation.

Also sentenced yesterday was Keith Wharton’s son, 34 year old Lee Wharton. Lee, who more recently has been living in Leeds, was convicted of money laundering. He received seven years imprisonment.

In 2006, Wharton began offering investment in Land, mainly in Panama, to investors through a Property Investment Club.

Wharton promised investors the land would double in value over a twelve month period and could then be sold. The investors were told to make their payments directly into UK bank accounts controlled by Keith Wharton’s son, Lee Wharton.

Keith Wharton (s)

Keith Wharton (s)

Within three years, Keith Wharton had conned around thirty investors out of £2.4 million.

No land was ever bought and the monies were used by Keith Wharton and Lee Wharton for their own benefit. They embarked on a luxury lifestyle and bough a luxury yacht and a number of high performance sport cars. They also made bespoke improvements to a Leeds City Centre apartment which included a £35,000 sound and TV system.

The investors in this scheme lost their money with devastating consequences. For a number of the victims it was their life savings or equity released from their homes. Many have been left in severe financial difficulty and have suffered mental health problems.

In 2009, Keith Wharton then turned his attention to a North Yorkshire retired businessman. He conned the man into investing £1 million into a bogus Bond Trading Scheme, and promised huge returns on the investment.

The money was sent to Wharton’s own bank account in Spain, where he was then living, and once again, the money was spent on his own and his son’s luxury lifestyles.

Keith Wharton then embarked upon yet another fraudulent scheme full of lies about huge return on investment. This time, however, Mr Wharton recruited a number of “professionals” to assist with this fraudulent scheme.

Stephen Pickard, a solicitor who worked for a large solicitor firm in Leeds, acted as Wharton’s gatekeeper and was used to give credibility to the scheme. He made false claims about Wharton’s track record and wealth.

Simon Kippax, a tax specialist, was also recruited to assist Wharton’s criminality. His role was the salesman responsible for recruiting new investors into the scheme. He made a number of misleading and false claims about the schemes to potential investors.

Between early 2010 and August 2010 around a dozen investors put £1.7 million into this scheme.

A further scheme was then launched in 2011 and another half dozen investors were conned into handing over a further £500k of money.

Keith Wharton was arrested in 2011, followed by his son, Lee Wharton. Soon after, Stephen Pickard and Simon Kippax were both interviewed by police.

North Yorkshire Police’s Major Fraud Investigation Team and the Financial Investigation Unit conducted an extensive and extremely complex investigation into this significant fraud. The trial started at Leeds Crown Court in June 2016.

The Detective and Financial Investigator in the case both received commendations from the judge.

DI Jon Hodgeon, Head of Fraud and Economic Crime for North Yorkshire Police, said: “These sentences are a fantastic result for North Yorkshire Police.

"These calculated, callous and arrogant men spent years defrauding innocent victims of millions of pounds and I am satisfied justice has been done.

“I commend the outstanding work of the detective and financial investigator in this incredibly complex case.

"The investigators showed immense dedication and commitment over a prolonged period of time and I believe the result at court has done that hard work justice.

"This case demonstrates the ability of North Yorkshire Police to investigate the most complex of cases and secure excellent convictions.

“Fraudsters like the Whartons, Pickard and Kippax are greedy criminals who masquerade as businessmen, and they are now where they belong - behind bars.

“This should serve as a stern warning to anyone out there who thinks they can get away with fraud. You can’t. We are watching you and we will find you and put you before the courts.”