A British conman was sentenced to 11 years in jail by a New York court for a financial scam involving more than 800 victims, including several dozen in the UAE.
In addition to the prison term, James Moore, 60, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years of supervised release, forfeiture of $1,599,257.46 and a fine of $50,000.
Moore must repay his victims $$57,579,790 as part of a restitution order by New York City's Southern District court, the District Attorney's office said in a statement.
He was found guilty of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy in 2019 for his role in the start-up company Bar Works, which offered companies hot-desking space in trendy refurbished bars and restaurants.
Dozens of UAE residents were among hundreds of victims around the world who invested in what prosecutors called a 'Ponzi scheme on steroids'.
New York prosecutors said Moore partnered with Renwick Haddow, another Briton, to recruit agents to raise more than $50 million from investors.
"James Moore partnered with notorious fraudster Renwick Haddow to design a massive Ponzi scheme that lured hundreds of unsuspecting investors from around the world," said US Attorney Damian Williams on Tuesday.
"Moore and affiliated companies siphoned 65 percent of each of their recruited victims’ investments.
"Moore then obstructed justice and lied about the scheme to federal agents. Today’s lengthy sentence sends a clear message that perpetrators of investment fraud will be prosecuted and held accountable.”
Mr Williams said Moore knew Bar Works was a "Ponzi scheme on steroids", designed to extract the most amount of money as quickly as possible before collapsing.
'They did not hesitate'
“Moore did not stay for the collapse; he collected $1.6 million before starting over with a copy-cat co-working space investment project," said Mr Williams.
"Far from being deterred by Haddow’s history, Moore saw the opportunities for massive profits and sought to join him.
"And despite it being obvious from the beginning that Bar Works could only sustain itself with new investors’ money, Moore did not hesitate to expand the Ponzi scheme and later to copy the idea."
Bar Works co-working spaces were publicly rented out with an annual membership fee. Investors were told they would receive an annual return of 14-16 per cent.
More than 800 victims were enticed to invest from the UAE, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, UK, Singapore, Russia, USA, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Jordan, Oman and Hong Kong.
Who are the two men behind Bar Works?
Moore offered a seemingly legitimate alternative at the head of the business to Haddow, who was already serving an eight-year UK director’s ban for fraudulent activity.
Moore and Haddow were well acquainted. In 2009, they were partners on a scheme selling fractional interests in hotels called Room to Invest.
Like Haddow’s many other money making projects, it also collapsed.
The two men met regularly in Miami and Dubai, with Moore a guest at Haddow's wedding.
The pair later struck up a deal for Bar Works in 2015, with Moore claiming a 35 per cent stake for his role in providing a front for the operation and an extensive network of agents through the United Property Group (UPG).
Moore and UPG collectively would obtain 65 per cent of each dollar pumped into Manhattan-based Bar Works by recruited investors.
That left just 35 per cent for Haddow’s cut, the 14-16 per cent annual interest payments that was guaranteed to the investor for ten years and the actual supposed operation of the Bar Works business.
It left the scheme doomed to fail, which it did in June, 2017.
Moore went behind Haddow’s back to launch a competing co-working space investment scheme in the summer of 2016.
Our Space sold projects in Dubai, Marbella, New York, Birmingham and Miami, and attracted $30 million of funding.
That decision led to a partnership breakdown between the co-conspirators.
Arrest in Morocco
Haddow, 51, fled to Morocco when the Bar Works scam unravelled, but was arrested in Tangiers and extradited to the US in 2018, where he is in prison awaiting sentencing.
Federal prosecutors asked a New York judge to take into account the damage done to investors by Moore’s deception, as many lost life savings.
”The defendant's decision to join the scheme was not a one-time mistake or a fleeting lapse in judgment,” they said.
“Time and time again, Moore made conscious choices to continue to facilitate frauds on countless individual victims, and to cover up his fraud with lies and deception.
"The defendant stole from hundreds of real people ... [and] caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. His sentence should reflect the reality of the pain he caused.”
Moore’s legal team disagreed with the $57 million restitution order, and appealed for a reduction to $7.5 million – the amount a group directly solicited by Moore invested.
Prosecutors said Moore should be held responsible for total losses as he was intrinsically involved in the wider scam.
'Jonathan Black' alias concealed convicted fraudster
Haddow’s name was omitted from all Bar Works Inc marketing material, and replaced with the fictitious Jonathan Black to mask his involvement.
A fake LinkedIn page for Black added to a veil of authenticity.
Co-conspirator Savraj ‘Sam’ Gata-Aura was jailed for four years in 2020 for his role in the global scheme that offered investment units in Istanbul, New York, San Francisco and London.
Prosecutors estimated Gata-Aura, 35, earned $3 million from the con, soliciting $10 million in funds from around 80 investors with fictitious claims about company performance.
Rather than pay investors the promised monthly returns, Bar Works instead repaid earlier investors from new deposits in a classic Ponzi scheme model.
US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the gang would be held to account for the “blizzard of lies” told to their victims.
According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Moore received at least $1.5 million in commission for pushing Bar Works investments via a network of agents.
Haddow, 53, pleaded guilty on May 23, 2019, to one count each of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy relating to the Bar Works scheme.
Haddow also admitted one count each of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy relating to a separate investment scheme involving Bitcoins. Haddow’s sentencing is scheduled for April 8.
Haddow faces a maximum prison term of 40 years and is due to be sentenced in April.
Dubai-based expat 'conned out of $50,000'
Several property agents in Dubai attracted victims to the scam, who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is not thought there have been charges brought by police at this stage.
One of the UAE victims of Bar Works was South African Kevin Heard, who lost $50,000 after investing via an agent in Dubai, where he worked as a consultant in December 2016.
“I was introduced by an agent, and invested into two shared work spaces in New York,” said Mr Heard, a father of two.
“I had been in Dubai for five years and was working hard with an idea to save up so we could move to the UK.
“The money was substantial and losing it caused quite a bit of friction in my marriage, and contributed to our break-up.”
Mr Heard was promised a 25 per cent uplift after two years and was supposed to receive monthly interest payments, but that stopped after just a couple of months.
He tried to complain to the agent who sold the investment, but he had left the country.
The United States Attorney’s Office in New York said it was working on recovering funds from Bar Works across a number of foreign jurisdictions.
Although a court order for restitution of the millions lost by victims is in place, the recovery of funds is not guaranteed.
Restitution payments are dependent on income and assets of the accused, with most victims of financial crimes only receiving partial restitution.
“The money agents made from these sales should have been returned to us,” said Mr Heard.
“We were told they had incurred fees themselves and had worked for their money.
“But this had huge impact on families. It takes years of hard work to save this kind of money and puts great stress and strain on relationships.
“For some time, I thought I was dreaming and this wasn’t real. The reality is that money has gone.”