A Croydon conman, who was once described by his own lawyer as having a “Del Boy mentality”, has been sentenced to three years in jail after being found guilty on nine charges of fraud after he ripped off local businesses and several elite athletes with offers of lucrative sponsorships ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.
It emerged during the two-week trial at Croydon Crown Court that Mark Cas was effectively uncovered by suspicious athletes and disgruntled former employees using social networks Twitter and Facebook.
Cas, 46, also known as Mark Castley, lived in Thornton Heath. He was found guilty of two counts of fraud by false representation at Croydon Crown Court this morning.
He had already pleaded guilty to seven charges of fraud by false representation, for which he was sentenced to two years, to be served concurrently. Cas was also disqualified from becoming a company director for seven years. He was found not guilty of two further charges of fraud by false representation.
Cas’s arrest just over a year ago followed a social networking campaign by ex-employees and several of London 2012 sporting hopefuls who quickly became suspicious of Cas’s claims of million-pound sponsorships.
The campaign was followed up by investigative journalists at Wimbledon-based Sportsbeat news agency, who soon discovered that Cas’s former employees had been left unpaid and that tens of thousands of pounds of bills from car hire companies and other local service suppliers had been ignored.
Cas set up the grandly titled Global Sponsorship Group in offices in Croydon in July 2009. He then organised meetings with elite athletes, promising lucrative sponsorship deals, expenses and luxury cars, in return for “membership fees” of up to £1,000.
One of the first to be “signed up” was Mark Lewis-Francis, the former world junior 100 metres champion and 2004 Olympic relay gold medallist.
Cas’s website made barely credible claims that his had a sponsorship portfolio of £35million, with backing from FTSE 100 companies looking to sponsor sportspeople. Despite the extravagant – and unsupported claims – Cas managed to take in sports reporters from national newspapers like The Independent on Sunday and Daily Telegraph.
“It’s nice just to know that someone out there has belief in me,” Lewis-Francis told the credulous Telegraph in November 2009. “I was on the verge of retirement. This has definitely saved my career and given me a second chance to go out there and prove to the world that I’m still a decent sprinter.”
When UK Athletics issued a message to elite athletes to exercise caution before entering into management contracts or paying over any fees, shamelessly Cas demanded an apology. UKA chief executive Nils de Vos travelled more than 100 miles to Croydon to avoid the threat of legal action, and an undisclosed sum was paid over by the sports body.
Series of pseudonyms
In reality, Cas never had any contacts with the companies he claimed and not one of the sportspeople that signed up via the website ever received the sponsorship that was promised.
It was not as if Cas – or Castley – did not have “form”.
The fraudster had operated under a series of other pseudonyms when passing himself off variously as a private investigator, security consultant and amusement park operator for previous scams.
In court in 2004, even his own defence counsel had described Castley as having “a Del Boy mentality”. At that time, Castley’s lawyer told the court: “Not only did he obtain finance by a lie, but he had no idea, in reality, how to run a business.”
Castley had also served a previous 15-month conviction in 2002 for fraudulent trading and obtaining money by deception before his 2004 conviction for further frauds amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
In January 2010, within days of Sportsbeat’s report being published, Cas’s sports company’s website mysteriously went offline. Two weeks later, police officers from Croydon’s fraud unit arrested and charged Cas.
Police enquiries showed that the company set up by Cas had large debts and there were no connections with any of the companies that the website claimed. The Global Sponsorship Group had also been evicted from their registered offices in Croydon, having failed to pay rent. Police recovered various documents which remained at these offices and these helped officers to uncover the full extent of the fraud.
In court, Cas admitted seven counts of fraud by false representation, which related to conning athletes via his website. He denied the five counts of fraud, which were related to him signing well-known athletes and sponsoring them through the Global Sponsorship Group, whose names he went on to use to help authenticate his website and carry on the subsequent frauds.
DC Nichola Lester who investigated the case, said: “Throughout the investigation Cas has shown no remorse for his crimes. This conviction should warn anyone looking to profit illegally from the Olympic Games that the Metropolitan Police will deal with them robustly and look to bring them to justice.”
As many as two dozen of the country’s top athletes, such as Croydon-based Andy Turner, plus Andrew Steele, Abi Oyepitan and Alex Nelson, were signed up by Cas.
“My contract was a complete piece of rubbish,” Turner said.
“Fortunately, I did not pay any money, but I was suspicious from the start.
“Cas was really pushy, and no one in athletics comes to you offering to pay you £50,000 and saying ‘What Audi do you want?’”
Like several of the athletes who turned to GSG, including Lewis-Francis, Turner considered signing up to the agency because he had previously been cut from the national governing body’s funding scheme. But he still had bills to pay, travel costs to meet and physio sessions to fund.
As a 2006 European medallist, Turner was one athlete who Cas used to promote his scam. Yet despite the claims of millions of pounds of sponsorship, the athlete soon had his suspicions underlined.
“The first payment was three weeks late, then I had two cheques that bounced. Then I got a phone call from one of his staff to tell me that they had all been sacked,” Turner said.
One of the athletes Global Sponsorship Group attempted to sign-up was Croydon’s Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medal-winner, Tasha Danvers.
But she alerted her friends online via Twitter, and a Facebook group was also set up to warn people not to part with any money to GSG.
At least for Lewis-Francis and for Turner, there is an element of a happy ending: despite his financial uncertainties in the winter of 2009-2010, Lewis-Francis managed to win the 100m silver medal at last summer’s European championships in Barcelona, while Turner won the European and Commonwealth 110m hurdles titles last year.