'Conmen tried to sell Ritz for £250m in fantasy deal,' court told

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The Independent Online

Three conmen tried to sell the Ritz Hotel for £250m in an elaborate scam that was simply "too good to be true", a London court was told yesterday.

The trio chose their marks well, finding victims who were interested in the high-stakes world of trophy properties and making false promises until they handed over a £1m deposit, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Anthony Lee, an unemployed lorry driver, pulled off the con which involved "one great big lie", convincing potential buyers that he was a "close friend and associate" of the billionaire Barclay brothers, who own the hotel in Piccadilly, London.

Anuja Dhir QC, for the prosecution, said: "The deal that sounded too good to be true was a complete fantasy. 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."

Lee, 49, and his business partner, Patrick Dolan, a 68-year-old retired construction contracts manager, pretended they had the ability to arrange the sale, while Conn Farrell, 57, a solicitor, added "a veneer of legitimacy" to their scam. They found their mark, Terence Collins and his firm London Allied, through Karen Maguire, a director of Property-Source.com.

Lee told Ms Maguire that he had access to a contract to buy the Ritz for £200m and would sell it on to a third party for £250m, offering to split the difference with her if she could find a buyer, the court heard.

The three men, who are on bail, all deny conspiracy to defraud between 1 January 2006 and 30 March 2007. The trial, which is expected to last four weeks, was adjourned until tomorrow.