July 29th 2014
A serial conman who sold non-existent tickets for the Olympics and celebrity events, and whose victims include the charity Childline, has been sentenced to an additional two and a half years imprisonment for failing to pay back £209,000 of criminal cash.
Samuel Ernest, 48, a US citizen originally from Haiti, was jailed for four and a half years in February 2013 after pleading guilty to £48,000 worth of fraud. He had pretended to run his own high profile corporate hospitality business and claimed to be associated to Prestige Ticketing Limited, the official provider of Olympic Hospitality Packages for the London 2012 Games, in order to convince people to buy non-existent tickets from him.
In December last year he was ordered to pay back £308,000 after he could not explain to Kingston Crown Court how he had acquired assets of this value while living in the UK illegally between 2006 and 2012. This was reduced to £209,000 after he appealed his confiscation order in June this year. Ernest was ordered to pay back this money – some of which would be used to compensate his victims – by 21 June this year, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. He failed to pay a penny back and was today sentenced further at Westminster Magistrates' Court.
The first of Ernest's victims to come forward was a 46-year-old woman who he dated with a view to defrauding her and her family. The victim met Ernest at a Christmas party in 2011. He persuaded her that he was credible by taking her to the British Independent Film Awards before convincing her to give him £3,900 for London 2012 Olympic tickets for herself and her family. The tickets never materialised and Ernest disappeared after he got her money.
Other events that he convinced his victims he could get them tickets for included the MOBO Awards, Formula 1 Grand Prix, Champions League, the BAFTA Awards, the Wimbledon Championships, Cannes Film Festival, Cheltenham Festival Races, Les Misérables, a Harry Potter Film premiere, a Take That concert, a meet-and-greet with Bruce Springsteen and an Olympics charity dinner supposedly hosted by David Beckham but which was completely fabricated by Ernest.
On one occasion, Ernest bid for London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony tickets, dinner with a celebrity chef and a night in a top London hotel, at a Childline silent auction. He won the bid and claimed the tickets, which he then sold on for £4,000, however the money has never been paid to the charity.
The greatest sum of money he defrauded a single victim of was £9,250 – paid by a financial services firm for a combined total of 38 tickets for Take That concerts and Champions League matches.
He also conned a dentist in Halifax, West Yorkshire, into paying £1,500 for tickets to a Harry Potter film premiere in London. The dentist offered the tickets as a prize in a competition for his patients. A 15-year-old girl won and she and her family travelled to London for the premiere, only to find no tickets had been purchased.
The vast majority of Ernest's victims were instructed to transfer money to a woman who he claimed was his accountant. Ernest had the woman's bank card and PIN which he used to withdraw an average of £1,600 per month from cashpoints. He also used the card to buy meals at luxury restaurants in London and Brighton.
In August 2012, police began investigating Ernest, who was of no fixed address and had been staying with women at various addresses across the UK. Knowing that detectives were looking for him, Ernest rang one of the investigating officers to taunt him that he was not going to hand himself in, however, detectives worked doggedly to track him down. Just 19 days later they traced Ernest – who has links to addresses in New York, San Francisco, California and Cannes – to a bed and breakfast in Birmingham. Police stopped him as he was leaving the bed and breakfast. Ernest attempted to pass himself off as his twin brother by presenting his passport before unsuccessfully trying to run away.
During the course of their investigation, specialist financial investigators gathered 67 witness statements in five weeks; scrutinised six years-worth of bank statements – an arduous task given that money was frequently being moved on an hourly basis – and analysed over 46,000 text messages exchanged between Ernest and his victims. They also seized a number of genuine events tickets from him, including for Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday celebrations and a Heston Blumenthal supper night, which he had used as examples to convince people of his credentials. Sometimes he gave these tickets to people by way of consolation or to placate them when he did not deliver the goods that they had actually paid for.
On 5 February 2013 he was jailed for four and a half years for 17 counts of fraud and possession of an identity document with improper intentions. A further five counts of fraud were ordered to lie on file.
Temporary DCI Gary Miles, of the Central Criminal Finances Team, said: "Samuel Ernest is an audacious confidence trickster who preyed on the emotions and good faith of his many victims in order to get their money. He tried to evade paying back the thousands of pounds he owes these people but has instead been imprisoned for even longer. Meanwhile, we will continue to persue him for the money he owes." DCI Miles continued: "Let this be a reminder to anyone making money from crime that we won't stop at convicting them – we'll also come after their cash, and if they don't pay, they'll be placed back before the courts."