Bond theft laundering man jailed

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The Independent Online
THE CAREER of an international fraudster was halted when a New York court jailed him for six and a half years for crimes including laundering money from the world's biggest mugging - in the City of London in May 1990 - when pounds 292m of bonds were stolen at knifepoint, write David Connett and Marvin Smilon.

Keith Cheeseman, 50, pleaded guilty to six charges at an earlier hearing before a United States federal court in Manhattan. He admitted conspiracy to sell more than dollars 550m (pounds 372m) in stolen securities, including the proceeds of the bond robbery. This was initially believed to be the work of a small-time thief, but City of London detectives learned that it was done by an international fraud and money-laundering ring linked to US organised crime.

Judge Robert Sweet said in New York on Friday that Cheeseman, of Bethnal Green, London, was receiving the maximum sentence because of the seriousness of the offence, his long record of theft and fraud and the fact he had jumped bail after his arrest in London in 1990 and fled to Spain to avoid extradition to the US. The judge said he would recommend that Cheeseman serve his sentence in Britain.

In the 1970s, Cheeseman, the son of a Luton shopkeeper, bought Dunstable Town FC with the proceeds of a previous fraud and persuaded George Best to play for the non-league club. The club was forced into liquidation when he was jailed in 1977.

He was trapped in an FBI undercover operation with a fellow conspirator, Mark Lee Osborne, a Texan businessman. Osborne tried to sell some of the stolen London bonds to undercover officers posing as Mafia buyers. After his arrest, Osborne was used to trap Cheeseman, who was arrested at his flat in the Barbican, in the City of London.

Cheeseman later fled to Tenerife, where he was arrested and sent to the US. He claimed later that he had absconded because he feared a Mafia godfather had put out a contract to have him killed. Osborne's body was found in the boot of a car in Houston, Texas. He had been shot twice in the back of the head. His family is now suing the FBI for failing to protect him.

City of London detectives also foiled an attempt by Cheeseman to defraud a City financial company of up to pounds 8m, it emerged this weekend.

Cheeseman, a married man, contrived to 'pick up' Elaine Borg, the computer supervisor of a London finance company in a City wine bar. After seducing her, Cheeseman rented a luxury flat for Ms Borg before persuading her to to switch up to pounds 8m belonging to the firm's clients into an offshore account.

The plan was thwarted by the City Fraud Squad, which had been watching Cheeseman. Ms Borg was also arrested at his flat.

Last month, at Snaresbrook Crown Court, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud her employers and was given an 18-month suspended sentence.