City fraudster escapes prison

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The Independent Online
ROGER LEVITT, whose investment company crashed with debts of pounds 34m after trading fraudulently, was ordered yesterday to serve 180 hours' community service.

Levitt, who lied to City watchdogs in a desperate attempt to keep his ailing company afloat, was told by the judge at Southwark Crown Court that what he had done was 'thoroughly and markedly dishonest'.

The failed financial adviser, who ploughed nearly pounds 900,000 belonging to a friend, the author Frederick Forsyth, into his business instead of buying bonds, looked relieved as he was ordered to do community service instead of going to prison.

Levitt's former managing director, Mark Reed, 40, was sentenced to 120 hours' community service.

Both men, who admitted fraudulent trading with intent to defraud creditors by deceiving Fimbra, the City watchdog, were also banned under the Company Directors Disqualification Act: Levitt for seven years and Reed for four years.

On Monday, just days into the trial, the two changed their pleas to guilty on the fraud charge. The case was expected to take months.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Laws accepted that Levitt was not the originator of the scheme to fool Fimbra and that he owned up soon afterwards. The judge said that while fraudulent trading carried a maximum of seven years' imprisonment, he felt justice 'required him' to compare the men's crimes with the less serious offence of making false and misleading statements. That carried an upper limit of two years in jail.

'Mr Levitt has also had the support, in mitigation, of very distinguished businessmen. He has also been a very substantial benefactor to a whole series of institutions.'

Godfrey Jillings, Fimbra chief executive, had hailed Levitt's decision to change his plea as a major regulatory achievement.

The watchdog said yesterday: 'We suspended and terminated its (Levitt Group's) membership and Fimbra will endeavour to ensure that anyone who has committed an impropriety in relation to the Levitt case will not be able to offer financial services again.'

The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the prosecution, said: 'The pleas of Mr Levitt and Mr Reed covered the criminality of their conduct and on that basis we accepted their pleas. These pleas gave the trial judge ample sentencing powers. We, like any prosecuting authority, have no say in the sentencing of offenders.'

View from City Road, page 19

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