'Gifted' fraudster gets 30 years

2009-04-30 22:38
Cape Town - A former jailbird with a "velvet tongue" was on Thursday sentenced in Cape Town to an effective 30 years' jail for fraud and theft.

Maurice de Grandhomme met some of his victims at the golf driving range at Pollsmoor prison while he was serving time for a previous conviction on multiple counts of fraud.

Wynberg regional magistrate Bruce Langa said De Grandhomme, 49, was undoubtedly a person of above average intelligence, gifted with "a very brilliant mind".

However, Langa said, he still could not comprehend how educated people could allow themselves to be deceived by someone who was a convict still serving his sentence.

Some of De Grandhomme's victims, he said, had been embarrassed to admit they were tricked by "a prisoner with a velvet tongue".

"He has managed to bamboozle and outsmart learned people with degrees," Langa said.

Swindler

The magistrate sentenced De Grandhomme to 25 years on one count of fraud, in which he swindled retired mining engineer Benjamin Nel out of R750 000 supposedly for a golfing company venture.

He sentenced him to five years for milking chartered accountant Hedley Whithead of R411 000, which was ostensibly to be sunk into golf estate development, but in reality went on De Grandhomme's personal expenses.

On six other counts of fraud, and two of theft, one of which involved R700 000 also meant for a golf estate investment, Langa sentenced De Grandhomme to periods of five to ten years jail, to run concurrently with the 25-year sentence.

On each of seven counts under the Companies Act, De Grandhomme was sentenced to two years jail or a R5 000 fine.

"The circumstances of the case clamour for the sternest possible sentence," Langa said.

Can appeal sentencing

He granted De Grandhomme leave to appeal the fraud and theft convictions and sentence, but denied leave on the Companies Act contraventions.

De Grandhomme's co-accused, city bookkeeper Brian Lombard, 68, was sentenced to five years jail, conditionally suspended, on two counts of fraud, and to two years or R5 000 on each of three Companies Act contraventions.

Langa granted Lombard leave to appeal all the convictions.

Evidence was that the two men met at Pollsmoor, where Lombard was also serving time after being convicted of embezzlement of trust funds.

De Grandhomme met Nel and the R700 000 theft complainant, Marianna Fergusson, while he was stationed at the prison's golf driving range.

Langa found that he apparently convinced Fergusson that a R1.1m investment would generate profits of about R30m over five years.

Didn't notice prison jumpsuit

Fergusson, Langa said, "stated that she was not aware that accused two (De Grandhomme] was an inmate in Pollsmoor prison despite the fact that he wore the bright orange coloured prison jumpsuit when she first met him".

She blamed this on her poor eyesight.

However, Langa noted that she had been able to see well enough to drive a golf cart and play golf.

He said De Grandhomme was first jailed for fraud in 1989, then again in 1997.

De Grandhomme was released on special remission in September 2004, and committed some of the new offences the same year, Langa said.

Some of the other offences for which he was sentenced on Thursday involved a failed organic honey export scheme, defrauding Absa and a Citroen dealership over the purchase of two cars, misrepresentations to banks to secure properties worth millions, and claims to a variety of people that he was employed by Grandberry UK - in fact a non-active shelf company - at £6 400 a month.

The investigation and prosecution were run by the Scorpions.

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