Man who tried to sell the Ritz faces long jail term

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The Independent Online

A penniless conman is facing a substantial jail sentence after being convicted of an ambitious scam to sell the Ritz hotel for £250m.

Anthony Lee, 49, an unemployed lorry driver, chose his target well, finding victims who were interested in the high-stakes world of trophy properties and sucking them in with false promises until they handed over £1m, Southward Crown Court in London heard.

Remanding him in custody, Judge Stephen Robbins said Lee faces an "immediate and quite substantial custodial sentence".

He was at the heart of a con based on "one great big lie", convincing potential buyer Terence Collins that he was a "close friend and associate" of the reclusive billionaire Barclay brothers, owners of the hotel in Piccadilly.

But the court heard that Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay had never met or even heard of Lee and were completely unaware he was claiming to be able to sell the landmark building from under their noses.

Anuja Dhir QC, for the prosecution, told the jury of nine women and three men: "The deal that sounded too good to be true was a complete fantasy."

The "simple but well-targeted and ambitious scam" offered the victims a tempting bargain in which they were promised everything but frustrated with unnecessary requests until they handed over £1m, Ms Dhir added.

During the four-week trial, Lee insisted he was a "straight-talking Yorkshireman". He was convicted of obtaining the £1m payment by deception after more than 14 hours of jury deliberations, but was cleared of conspiracy to defraud between 1 January 2006 and 30 March 2007.