Lee successfully targeted wealthy investors by pretending he had access to a contract to buy one of London’s most famous hotels and its owners, the famously secretive billionaire Barclay brothers, who also own the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Lee, 49, told businessman Terry Collins he could snap up the desirable hotel at a cut-price of £200m and then immediately sell it on for £250m, but he would need £1m up-front to keep the deal exclusive.
Collins gained financial backing from Dutch billionaire financier Marcus Boekhoorn, of Apvodedo, telling him that the reclusive Barclay brothers had “secretive” reasons for selling The Ritz through a third party.
The former lorry-driver also promised to hand over 27 boxes of sale documents entitling Collins to the deeds of the hotel but once money was transferred Lee vanished.
Having obtained the £1m, Lee sought to apply £125,000 of the cash to discharge his liabilities and annul his bankruptcy, thereby creating mitigating circumstances for the period of any bankruptcy restrictions order.
He was only thwarted in his efforts when Bokehoorn’s solicitors highlighted fraudulent actions. The Insolvency Service said: “He dishonestly represented to the Official Receiver that he was the owner of the money held to his order in his solicitors’ client account.”
Lee also immediately transferred £435,000 of swindled cash to his friend Patrick Dolan, 68, who blew the lot in a couple of days on “having a good time.” The court heard the Irishman took out up to €40,000 in cash a day (then worth about £27,000) for gambling and lost €185,000 euros (about £125,000) on the horses. He also bought a £42,000 Mercedes and paid off his 46,000 euro (about £31,000) mortgage.
Boekhoorn has sued Lee for the money and the case is set to progress to a full trial.
Remanding him in custody, Judge Stephen Robbins said Lee faces an “immediate and quite substantial custodial sentence” on July 27.
During the four-week trial, Lee, an undischarged bankrupt who had a police caution for theft and was behind with his rent at the time of the scam, insisted he was just a “straight-talking Yorkshireman”.
Lee was initially made bankrupt in 2004 after he sold a crane he had obtained on hire-purchase for a £7,000 profit without the knowledge or authority of the hire company – who still legally owned the crane.