Norfolk man jailed for Florida scam

SHAUN LOWTHORPE A former Norfolk double glazing salesman is beginning an “inadequate” 15-month jail term in Florida after masterminding a scam promising American visas for UK investors.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

A former Norfolk double glazing salesman is beginning an “inadequate” 15-month jail term in Florida after masterminding a scam promising American visas for UK investors.

Michael Leggett, who used to run Hellesdon-based Farmhouse Windows and Conservatories, took hundreds of thousands of pounds off Britons who were told his firm would secure the necessary paperwork to allow them to emigrate legally to the Sunshine State.

But the 52-year-old from Norwich has escaped a hefty prison sentence after striking a plea bargaining deal with US prosecutors.


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And he will be heading back to this country after a US court ruled he would be deported on completion of his jail sentence.

The father-of-two, whose wife watched the hearing from the back of the court, previously admitted two counts of conspiracy to visa fraud.

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He must also serve three months in community detention and three months in home detention upon his release before being deported.

Judge Gregory Presnell, said the sentence was “inadequate” and he wanted to impose three years, but was obliged to follow US sentencing guidelines.

“He not only stole money but he stole the dreams and hopes of these people and their families,” he said. “He was spinning fraudulent documents to the government to try to get visas.

“He's now a salesman and, based on his success at swindling his victims, I suspect he's probably a good one.

“We have here, I think, a particularly pervasive, widespread and long-standing period of fraudulent activity.

He said the British victims “have not only lost confidence in themselves, but also in the US government” and added that “large sums of money” were involved.

“These people are here struggling in the US to survive with their lives. I guess what I'm saying is the victims of this could be most benefited by perhaps some leniency in their status applications.

“I hope that our government will do something to help the victims of Mr Leggett.”

The conman, who still owns a property in Brick Kiln Road in Hevingham, left Norwich after his double-glazing and conservatory firm went bust owing thousands of pounds to more than 40 customers and leaving many with half-built conservatories.

He was also ordered to pay restitution and the exact amount will be set at a hearing in Orlando, Florida, on February 28.

“I read the pre-sentence report with a great deal of shock that someone could engage in this conduct for such a long period of time and cause such a great deal of harm to this many people,” the judge added.

“My sense is that Mr Leggett is not going to do this again in the future. In part, because of the sentence I'm going to impose, and in part because I think he's smart enough to realise now that it's not the way to go.”

The court heard that Leggett used forged signatures along with fake addresses and phone numbers to secure visas for at least 12 Britons through his company, Royal Development.

The Florida plan involved selling Britons construction companies with which they could erect houses for themselves as the licensed builder of Royal Development.

The UK investors were told that the purchase of a company would qualify the investor for an E-2 visa and that Royal Development would submit the visa paperwork on the investors' behalf.

Between September 2003 and October 2004, at least 12 companies were sold to UK investors, named in the plea agreement as Christine Anderson, Ian Howcroft, Tracy Thorpe, David Laverick, Gary Weeks, John Sewell, Kevin Maxam, Nicola Jiggens, Eugene Smith, Allison Smith, Jason Lewis and Andonio Toussaint.

But the US Embassy in London became suspicious and the investors, most of whom said they paid $150,000 (£75,000), never received their documents or the coveted E-2 work visa.

An investigation was started and Leggett was arrested at his rural, lakefront home near the town of St Cloud in Osceola County, Florida, on February 10.

He told investigators he came up with the idea of selling businesses to Britons, which would enable them to get coveted E-2 visas, in January 2003.

It was that month that his Norfolk business, went into liquidation, leaving customers and suppliers claiming they were owed thousands of pounds.

The Florida plan involved selling Britons construction companies with which they could erect houses for themselves as the licensed builder of Royal Development.

According to court documents, between December 2001 and November 2004, Leggett conspired to commit visa fraud when he attempted to obtain an L-1A visa for himself by using a series of fraudulent documents.

“During the interview, Leggett admitted that most of the investors would not have gotten involved with Royal Development but for the possibility of a visa,” the criminal complaint said.

US prosecutors said Leggett agreed to “make full restitution to any victims identified in the pre-sentence report” as part of his plea deal.

He also agreed to "co-operate fully' with the US "in the investigation and prosecution of other persons'.

Bob Leventhal, defending Leggett, said he had tried to get visas for three Britons - Ian Howcroft, Christine Anderson and Tracy Thorpe - and was faced with a choice when he failed.

“He could be honest and tell these people straight up and tell them it's not working and give them their money back,” Mr Leventhal said. “But he went the other way and he understands his responsibility for that.”

Mr Leventhal said Leggett, who was wearing a cream suit with a blue shirt, wanted to address the court but was too nervous.

“He's asked me to say he accepts what he's done and he's sorry for what he's done, but that doesn't really help the victims.”

Mr Leventhal admitted that “the likelihood is somewhat bleak for a decent retribution” as Leggett was going to prison and would not be working to be able to make any money.

Nancy Oliver, prosecuting, told the court that the investigation was still continuing and Leggett was co-operating with them.

She added: “Others will be pursued and we are moving in that direction.”

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