Tony Hetherington, Financial Mail on Sunday
Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
A.G. writes: In 2004, I bought Atlantic Wine Agencies shares through brokers Pacific Continental.
I have recently been contacted by Courington Law from Boston in the US, with an offer to sell my shares through an escrow agent in Singapore.
They say my shares are worth £110,000, and the money is in HSBC, in Hong Kong. The proceeds will be sent as soon as I pay fees of £5,000.
I have asked them to pay me first and then I will settle their fee. This sounds too good to be true.
Atlantic Wine Agencies shares worth £110,000… Too good to be true
Of course it is too good to be true. It is an out and out fraud. I warned last Sunday that there is no such law firm in Boston.
Anyone who hands over fees upfront can kiss goodbye to their cash.
The reader whose letter we published last Sunday was promised £80,000 for his valueless shares in a company called Score One Inc.
I have also been contacted by a reader who says Courington Law has offered more than £70,000 for his shares in yet another American company, Med Gen Inc.
The one thing all these tinpot stocks have in common is that they were sold to British investors by Pacific Continental Securities, one of the most corrupt broking firms ever to inhabit the City of London.
It was closed down after a series of investigative reports in The Mail on Sunday, but by then investors had lost tens of millions of pounds.
The tricksters behind Courington Law have simply got hold of a list of Pacific Continental’s victims and are trying to cheat them all over again by offering some expensive pie in the sky. If further proof is needed, then here it is.
To my surprise, when I made enquiries in the US, I found that Atlantic Wine Agencies – which was supposed to operate vineyards in Australia – did not disappear completely when it collapsed many years ago.
Its company registration was never cancelled, and over the years it went through several name changes and has now emerged as Tauriga Sciences Inc, a small Connecticut medical business.
This means it is impossible for Courington Law or anyone else to arrange a sale of Atlantic Wine Agencies shares.
There is no company of that name, and there has not been for years, and there is no market in the shares.
Clearly frustrated, Tauriga’s chief executive Seth Shaw told me he had received about 25 calls from investors in the original vineyard business, and he knew they had been charged many times what the shares were worth even then.
He complained: ‘People make so much money by stealing it, and then other people have to clean up.’
There is a tiny silver lining to this dark cloud though. I asked Shaw whether Atlantic Wine shareholders now have a stake, however small, in Tauriga.
‘Sure they do,’ he answered. So the shares are still valid? ‘Of course they are valid,’ he assured me. But they are not listed on any stock market.
It could be a long wait, but it is worth keeping an eye on Tauriga’s website for news – but don’t send a penny to Courington Law or anyone linked to it.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
Gang must cough up or do more jail time
The Financial Conduct Authority has won court orders forcing eight fraudsters to hand back a total of £2.19 million to victims or face further jail time on top of sentences imposed in 2015.
The gang ran a series of land investment companies that raked in more than £5 million from victims, who were told the land would rocket in value when it was developed. But they were actually selling agricultural land with no prospect of development.
Ringleader Scott Crawley was ordered to hand over £627,190 or face a further five-and-a-half years in prison in addition to his eight-year sentence.
Corrupt solicitor Dale Walker has to repay £887,408 or spend an extra three-and-a-half years behind bars when he has finished serving his five-and-a-half-year sentence.
I warned in 2012 that he was linked to at least six land scams and had been fined £10,000.
Two carbon credits conmen have been banned from running any British firm for 14 years. Lincoln Prevost, 41, of Lewisham, South London, and David Ramsey, 40, from Slough, Berkshire, were behind Diffraction Limited, which went into liquidation in 2014 owing £2.14 million.
Both admitted to Insolvency Service investigators their firm made false claims to investors about profits to be made, when there was no market to turn carbon credits back into cash. Investors made a total loss. I warned in March last year that Ramsey had moved on and was boss of Diffraction Diamonds, a Dubai-registered company promoting gemstones as an investment.
As the company trades in Britain, proceedings have been brought in the High Court to have it shut down too.
The boss of a scam publishing firm that claimed to help young people has been disqualified from acting as a company director for 11 years. Roy Hasford, 34, of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, ran Owl House Northern Limited, which tricked businesses into paying for advice booklets for schools.
Companies complained they were invoiced despite never having agreed to pay for booklets, and the Insolvency Service found major question marks over whether they were produced and delivered.
Close links were found to the Teenage Information Bureau. I revealed this firm as a rip-off in 2013 and it was shut by the High Court a year later. Its boss Gemma Reilly was banned as a director for ten years.