Could you spot a conman? I thought I could but I didn’t. Not for a while.
Five years ago I met a man who turned out to be a conman. He conned many decent people out of tens of thousands of pounds, including Watford Football Club, Coventry City FC and some friends of mine.. I was due on Wednesday to give evidence at his trial as a witness for the prosecution. Today he changed his plea to guilty and has been convicted and sentenced.
Here is the real account I wrote at the time and I ask you again, could you have spotted this fraudster and to say to you, be aware….
The facts of this story are as known to me, some facts are unequivocal; some are second hand conversations honestly recollected.
Mike and Tania are lovely. We haven’t known them for long, me less than my wife as she used to work with them. I knew them as surrogate mates to start with, people you hear about in after work conversations when the day is accounted for. My misses did them a favour, a simple thing of passing on an ad from the paper that would help Tania’s son get on a college course and they were grateful for the random act of kindness.
Londoner Mike has a rye sense of humour and a sweet tooth. Don’t leave a bag of sweets unattended and expect to come back and have them un-pilfered.
“They call to me” Mike will explain when caught with sugar round his mush or seen desperately trying to dislodge a wine gum from a molar when confronted. Tania is his foil, the opposite side of the penny, sensible and nearly immune to Mike’s humour. On occasion though she does bite back a bit.
“In our house I take of the important stuff, like the four TV remotes, there technical” Mike explains. Tania gives the look that women do so well that tells us mere men that there will be… consequences.
They are good people.
BBT is a Coventry company who sell photocopiers and supply vending machines and it’s through them that Mike met Ken. Ken Gooley needed vending machines for one of the business I know him to run, the Pheonix gym in Chesham. He took it over from Kaizen Health Clubs opening 27th July 2009. Ken cut a deal to take it on with the previous manager running it, Alan Soldini who fronted £20,000 of his own hard earnt.
Ken appeared to be a good customer for BBT. They could supply him with what he needed. Meetings were arranged, introductions made, contracts signed and equipment delivered. The vending was Mike and Tania’s baby at BBT.
For a company like BBT the experienced American entrepreneur Ken Gooley looked a good customer to have, professional, solvent and with solid credentials.
He had another business, Evolution HDTV. A new name for the market place, a company that supplies top spec tellies at prices that, like for like, beat the big boys of Samsung and Panasonic hands down. The manufacturing company in China, Ken says, makes tellies for him and Samsung, the only difference being the Evolution badge.
Evolution HDTV sponsor English Championship side Watford FC. The name is splashed across the chests of the Watford players when the take the field, advertising boards and the football club web site. A good move for a fledgling TV company seeking brand awareness if they could afford it.
Sponsor a football team and you get perks and opportunities. The company box, match day meal and entertainment and the satisfaction of seeing your company name paraded in front of fans, press and TV cameras interest to see if Watford could once again bridge the void between the Championship and the Premier League. They had potential and the pedigree to do it again.
BBT were entertained by Ken at Watford for a game and Mike went along. They shared some common acquaintances. Mike had been around a few corners in his fifty years and run an East End boozer frequented by sporting celebs. Basher was one.
Mike’s enthusiasm and mobile phone book impressed Ken so much so Ken wanted to make an offer to Mike and Tania they had to consider. A job, accommodation, and a piece of the Evolution pie. The better Evolution did, Mike and Tania’s hard work would be rewarded.
Deals like this don’t come along often and as Ken explained, Mike was highly thought of, he’d spoke to Watford chairman Jimmy Russo about him and Jimmy said Mike would be an asset. Ken needed someone like Mike and Tania to drive the fledgling company on. Ken wasn’t well, he had a family history of cancer and had been having chemotherapy over the course and recent months. He attended the hospital in the morning and drove out to carry on working shortly afterwards.
Ken explained he wanted someone he could trust to take care of his younger wife and his two children if something happened.
Mike and Tania handed in their notice at BBT, gave up their house in Coventry and moved down to the big house that Ken owned. The house in Peterley Lane, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire had been on the market for two years with a selling price of £2million. As the market wasn’t moving much Ken suggested they stay there for a year and see what happened.
The house came to Ken from his friend, Mr Loch who he had lent money to for renovations in return for the deeds. Mr Loch died suddenly. In the weeks prior to his death his grounds man, Little John, tells of a conversation where Mr Loch said not to trust Ken as, “he’s a wrong’un.”
The house was big, Tania reckoned too big for just them and fortune dictated they should move out and into the gardener’s cottage next door. Ken told of a deal with the BBC who were going to shoot a drama series on the run up to Christmas and the house would be full of film crews. Tania was happy to move into the cottage. “No ghosties” she said. The BBC hasn’t arrived yet.
Mike knew I did I.T. and wanted to pay out on the favour my misses did. We met and chatted and I said I’d be up for meeting Ken. Me and the misses were invited to Watford FC to watch my team Coventry from the exclusive team sponsors box.
I met the well-dressed man for the first time and we got on well. He told me of playing in the national American high school football final, he played quarter back, and they won. He told me of being drafted for Vietnam in the early 70’s, of his employment with the DEA for 18 years, under cover for 11 and the drugs bust where he was given up and shot. A remarkable life.
His money he said came from American property deal, buying a building in New York for $20,000 that had $27,000 of taxes owed, his aunty fronted that money. He made a bundle on that deal.
He conveyed an impressive plausible persona with sound credentials and he sponsors Watford. He’s been in the UK for the last 7 years or so, falling in love with the then 33 year old Oxford educated lady, Jermima . Not bad for a man who is now 60. They have 2 children their second being born in the last few weeks. Not bad indeed for a man of that age and undergoing chemo. They live together in a house owned by her in Berkhampstead Road, Chesham.
I was impressed, Mike and Tania were happy to see us there and Coventry won in a good game of football. Elton John, wasn’t there, Ken said he would have introduced us but I did spot Coventry Director Joe Elliott at half time talking to Ken. Ken knew him as he was going to be part of the deal that could have bought Coventry City or he introduced the interested parties. That deal fell threw.
Ken let me into a little secret, Watford had asked him there and then if he would be the producer of the yet to be announced Elton John concert for next summer. He might even persuade his friend Cindy Lauper to appear on the bill but its still hush hush.
Mike said afterwards Ken was impressed by me, and a few weeks later I was offered a role with Evolution, working a day per week on their web marketing and I.T. plus a piece of the pie. A good opportunity.
Mike and Tania were excited by what was going on but some things didn’t pan out as expected, employment contracts were slow arriving and some people weren’t complimentary about Ken.
Basher, aka Kirk Stevens ex-Coventry player and Mike had been mates for years. Kirk had been friends with Ken. Ken had stopped at Kirk’s house, ate meals with his family and they set up a company, Crystal TV together with two other investors. Kirk put in £20,000 the other two, £50,000 each. It was through Kirk that Ken made contacts at Coventry City and Watford. Mike says Kirk is a decent bloke.
Crystal TV didn’t happen the way it was hoped and the two investors wanted their money back after some months. Ken and Kirk were directors. All the money had gone. A civil action for recovery followed, Kirk was exhonorated of blame and Ken Gooley was ordered to pay back all the money owed plus £25,000 costs. To date no money has been paid back. Mike learnt this to late.
Kirk also introduced Ken to Raj the marketing guy at Watford FC. They had just lost the shirt sponsor for the coming season and needed someone. Raj, is an ex Coventry City employee and knew Kirk and was grateful for the introduction to the American millionaire entrepreneur.
A deal was formulated and the Watford shirts printed, 17,000 of them with the Evolution logo emblazoned across the front. The deal was yet to be signed but fortunately Raj was right to put his faith in Ken, a two year deal, worth £400,000, first year £150,000 second year the remainder. First year, three payments of £50,000, first was due 1st October.
The first payment was late, but the cheque arrived and Raj followed the payment through.
Raj called Ken. Ken then emailed Raj the proof of the money leaving his account with a copy of the bank statement. It was only time then before the money cleared. On later examination the doctored bank statement had a £50k entry in the receipt column and this was unfortunately missed.
Four weeks later the chairman of Watford became aware of the situation after a conversation Mike had with Mr Russo about Ken Gooley. He wanted to know if Jimmy has indeed recommended Mike to Ken. He hadn’t. This was a few hours after an off the record conversation I had with Raj that seemingly wasn’t conveyed. This was Friday at the end of October, Mike and Tania were due their wages, it had been an expensive month with moving and all.
I’d met Ken at the house with Mike and Tania the day before, Ken’s appearance was different to how I first met him, scruffy leather jacket not so white shirt and driving an N reg Peugeot 405.
He wanted me as part of the Evolution team and Ally the company accountant asked for the financial details of my deal so all could be formulised. She seemed a nice lady, clued up and outwardly good at what she did. I was excited by the prospect. While there Ken took a call and bought 750 42inch LCD TV’s that became available. Right there and then, he’d could sell them on for £20 more and make a fast profit of £15,000. Turns out after checking the product code they were Plasma screens.
Still Mike and Tania were happy, Ally seemed encouraged that this part of the business would be represented and the future looked full of potential. I drove back to Coventry enthused.
Friday I phoned Mike and Tania answered, it was a different voice from that of yesterday.
Ken Gooley is a con man she said. He’d bouced their wages chequed, forged a bank email saying money had been transferred. Mike rang the number on the correspondence. The bank lady it was supposed to be from had never heard of Ken Gooley.
Mike and Tania’s world had just hit rock bottom. A mortgage direct debit was due to go and no money. They were living in a house they didn’t know if they had a right to be in. The more they asked Ken what was happening the more he deceived and lied.
Ally resigned Saturday morning, The accounts she had been given showed fraudulent activity both for the gym and Evolution. She went to the Police. Mike and Tania went to the Police. There appointment to make a statement was cancelled and the received a text message from the Police for them to reschedule. There still waiting.
They have been broken by Ken Gooley, “How could I be so stupid?” Mike asked. They left the cottage and went up north to stay with Mike’s brother leaving all there belongings behind. Mike’s rye sense of humour is missing at the moment and Tania is full of tears. But then again if Watford FC has been got what hope is there for us mere mortals.
Ken is most probably at the gym now, he’s been telling people how Alan has been stealing from the company. He hasn’t, he’s just lost his £20,000. Alan is broken by Ken.
Google offers insight to Ken’s background, a deal with a large Taiwan company gone bust, a bankruptcy action in a Florida court from dating back to 2002 for a mere $42 million with Ken’s name in it.
It still goes on, I heard yesterday that he phoned Coventry City to have payment method changed for £8000 worth of TV’s he supplied from cheque to credit card. He took both payments.
He called BBT as there’s no milk in the vending machine wanting to know why he hasn’t got his order. My understanding is no payment has been made on the contract but still he calls.
This weekend past Mike and Tania took a van to get their stuff from the cottage, there first and only opportunity. The van couldn’t take all there belongings and choices had to be made about what could be taken and what had to be left. Mike says it was a bad day.
I’d like to say I spotted a con man in action early doors but I didn’t. To spot these people I figure I would have to treat everyone with suspicion and contempt until they prove themselves. I don’t want to live that way, I want to believe the best of people but this is precisely the chink in the defences Ken Gooley without conscious, exploits again and again.
Some time after this I tried to warn others about this man, for me the law wasn’t moving fast enough and didn’t have the required teeth, I published a website www.kengooley.com – it was removed by him 4 times threatening the internet companies with legal action and finally me with a High Court writ issued to me. The law that I studied and so admire was being used against me to protect a conman. I have strong faith in Karma too. And in due course the conman kept conning and the law caught up with him.
There are other aspects of this case that I will hold back on for now, a Royal connection as well. But not for today.
Today he was convicted of fraud and possession of articles for use in fraud, sentenced to 7 month imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, ordered to pay compensation to pay back money he conned out of people, a curfew and ordered to live at a specified address by Oxford Crown Court to pay back some of the money he conned out of people.
Karma tells me he will do prison time.
This is the phone recording with Ken Gooley demanding I take down the site referred to above. November 2009
Copy of original page posted on Ken Gooley.com – http://richardbarnes.com/ken-gooley-the-original-page