A conman who posed as a Royal Marine and a special services operative has had his sentenced doubled after failing to pay back stolen money.
Joseph Birch was convicted in May 2016 on four counts of money laundering and one offence under the Fraud Act 2006, and was subsequently sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment.
Following the confiscation hearing last November, the court ruled that Joseph Birch had benefited from his criminal conduct in the amount of £7,528,613.00.
The court also ruled that Joseph Birch had hidden assets in the amount £5,792.420.08 that he was required to repay within three months or face a default sentence of a further seven years imprisonment.
On Friday 1 June, Joseph Birch aged 65 formerly of North Tawton, Devon appeared before North Somerset Magistrates Court by video link from HMP Dartmoor.
North Devon Magistrates Court were advised that Joseph Birch had failed to pay any of the outstanding money and imposed the additional seven year default sentence which will commence when he finishes the seven and half year sentence he is currently serving.
Operation Sloop: The California conman and Joseph Birch
The case of Joseph Birch is the sort of story that is usually reserved for the movies.
Birch was brought to justice following a five year investigation by the Devon and Cornwall Police Fraud Office, yet this case first started following a multi-million dollar fraud committed by Anthony Vassallo in California between 2006 and 2009.
Vassallo, who is serving a sixteen year sentence in California, set up a company called Equity Investment Management Trading Inc. and obtained investments from thousands of US citizens.
The investment scheme was however a ‘Ponzi’ scheme whereby money from new investors was used to pay out dividends to earlier investors while Vassallo siphoned off millions of dollars.
Following Vassallo’s arrest the Californian Court appointed a Receiver to locate assets that could be utilised to pay back to the US victims.
The Receiver soon identified two payments totalling £974,973.86 linked to the Vassallo case that had been paid in to the UK business account of Phlorian Racing Ltd, an account controlled by Joseph Birch and his wife, Grit.
Following a referral to the Devon and Cornwall Police by the US Court Receiver, the Force launched Operation Sloop to investigate the large sums of money being paid from accounts abroad in to one of three UK accounts; it was soon discovered that these accounts were held or controlled by Joseph and Grit Birch between 2003 and 2010.
The sources of these deposits were soon identified and found to be people based in the USA, Germany, Spain and Italy who had entered in to financial investment agreements with Joseph Birch.
Evidence obtained showed Joseph Birch regularly travelled abroad and held at various times bank accounts in Switzerland, China, The USA, Holland and Germany. He also held unidentified assets at a number of security warehouses in Switzerland.
With the assistance of the US Internal Revenue Service, The Royal Gibraltar Police and courts in Germany and Italy, evidence, including witness statements from a number of the victims, was obtained that showed the financial investment schemes were fraudulent.
On 10 September 2013, Joseph and Grit Birch were arrested at their then home of Higher Lowton Farm in North Tawton. Following their arrest thousands of financial investment documents were located at their house, many stating that Joseph Birch possessed high value assets which could be used as a surety for people to invest money against.
During two recorded police interviews Joseph Birch declined to answer any questions.
Both Joseph and Grit Birch were charged in March 2015 with eight charges under The Proceeds of Crime 2002 and The Fraud Act 2006 including fraud by false representation, removing or converting criminal property and money laundering.
The trial of Joseph and Grit Birch
On 9 May 2016 at Exeter Crown Court, Joseph Birch entered guilty pleas to one count of removing criminal property from the UK to the value of £1,872,308.50 and three counts of converting criminal property to a combined value of £1,838,658.50.
Evidence showed that whilst executing his con, Birch was referred to as ‘Sir’, ‘Lord’ and ‘His Excellency’ and many of his victims were personally told by Joseph Birch that he had served in the British Army; Birch later admitted that he had never received any formal title and had never served in the military, he also confirmed that he had paid no UK tax during the preceding 20 years.
In addition Joseph and Grit Birch entered a guilty plea to jointly possessing a number of documents for use in fraud which included documents linked to companies Joseph Birch had set up including Energy Enterprises International Ltd and Ultimate Elite Ltd, both of which were later dissolved with no legitimate trading recorded.
Joseph Birch was sentenced on that day to seven and a half years in prison while Grit Birch received six months in prison suspended for two years.
But the team behind Operation Sloop were determined that justice was served and that the millions of pounds stolen by Birch was recovered and victims compensated.
Following a contested confiscation hearing at Exeter Crown Court on last November, Judge Cottle ruled that Joseph Birch had benefitted from his criminal conduct in the amount of £7,296,199.44.
Judge Cottle also ruled that Joseph Birch had assets in the amount of £5,816,199.44, the whereabouts of which are unknown but are believed to be held outside the UK.
These assets include the proceeds from the sales of a Porsche, two Landrovers, a Jaguar, a motorhome, several caravans and a number of racehorses. In addition the £1,872,308.50 removed from the UK was transferred to a bank account held by Joseph Birch in Liechtenstein which was closed soon after, and this money remains unaccounted for.
Joseph Birch was given three months to pay the outstanding £5,816,199.44 or else serve a further seven years in prison; On Friday 1 June, Birch failed to repay what he owed and was subsequently sentenced to a further seven years in prison.
The confiscation order will remain in force until Joseph Birch repays the outstanding amount and police will continue in their efforts to locate any of Birch’s hidden assets in order to compensate the victims.