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Thursday, July 21, 2016

DIRTY ROTTEN (INTERNATIONAL) SCOUNDREL: Robert Buckhannon Associate, Bogus Baron 'Sir' Joseph Birch, Sentenced In UK's Exeter Crown Court

BUSTED! Birch behind bars!
Joseph Birch and his German-born wife, Grit, who'd both pleaded not guilty at Exeter Crown Court in Devon, England to an international investment fraud scheme estimated to have raked in $14,000,000 USD, were sentenced on May 9, 2016.

According to the British press reports, including the UK Daily Mail, Birch was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of removing or converting criminal property and one count of possessing articles for use in fraud. Grit Birch was given a six-month sentence, suspended for two years, for her role in the fraud. 

Racehorse owner Birch, 63, pretended to be a knight, a lord and an Army major as he targeted more than a dozen victims in the US, Spain, Italy and Germany. 

He used forged documents to convince his victims to invest in a number of invented companies, using the money to fund a luxury lifestyle for himself and his wife, Grit. 

Birch also laundered the proceeds through his stables in North Tawton, Devon, installing an indoor pool and purchasing a fleet of high-end sports cars. 

The prosecutor compared Birch's sophisticated scams to those carried out by Michael Caine and Steve Martin's characters in the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Sentencing the couple at Exeter Crown Court, Judge Graham Cottle said the scale of the frauds had been 'breathtaking'. 

"There is nothing even remotely legitimate about any aspect of your activities. This fraud was on an international scale. You pretended to be a knight of the realm, a lord, and a major in the army. It was all totally fictitious. You claimed to be an expert in trading in bonds and financial instruments. In fact you had no expertise at all and the money simply went into your pocket and you spent it as you wished." 

The court heard that Birch posed as a jet-setting businessman, staying in five-star hotels and wearing tailor-made suits as he courted would-be investors in Las Vegas, New York and Seattle. 

He devised a number of fictitious companies with apparently prestigious names such as Energy Enterprises International, Ultimate Elite, Phlorian Racing and the Birchwood Stud. 

Investors were made to believe the companies were worth trillions of pounds and were sent forged credit notes from the US Federal Reserve. However in reality Birch was a failed businessman with 14 convictions for theft or fraud. Prosecutor Richard Shepherd said the documents discovered by police at the couple's Devon farm were part of a 'fraudster's toolkit'. 

He said: "Birch was the salesman who traveled around the world committing the frauds face to face with victims and Grit Birch helped run the office and knew the documents were false. Some documents are signed Sir Joseph Birch and Grit signed as secretary of one of the companies. He is a fraudster. He and his wife lived in a huge property in the countryside. They bred horses and had all the trappings of wealth that went with it. In reality, there is no evidence of any legitimate income. They benefited from his frauds with a luxury lifestyle. His frauds were reminiscent of Michael Caine and Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." 

It was all about bravado, expensive clothes and the trappings of wealth. The purpose was to fool and con investors he was an international jet setting investor in bonds and other investments. 

Birch used the names Sir Joseph Birch, Major Birch and Lord Birch and even His Excellency Sir Joseph Birch. There is no evidence of any investments, this was just a scam on a large stage, carried out over seven years. 

Simon Nichols, Birch's attorney, said Birch had run a successful employment agency in Germany and only started the frauds when it failed because of a £1 million bad debt. 

Right! So about this connection with Battle Creek's "crooked chiropractor", Robert Buckhannon?

Thought you'd never ask!


Dave Sanders, the senior vice president of sales and marketing at a company that sold fiber-optic and copper cable, put together a money-recovery team to help investors recoup investments lost to Anthony Vassallo’s Ponzi scheme, EIMT. Sanders met with Vassallo investor Russ Putnam in December 2008, who introduced him to Kari Sonovich and Brandy White Elk. Putnam told Sanders the two were friends of his sister-in-law and owned a mortgage brokerage in Vegas. 

When they’d heard about Putnam’s troubles, they’d offered to use their real-estate know-how to track down property investments Vassallo had made, Putnam later told IRS investigators. Sanders met Anthony Vassallo at Putnam’s home that night, and in January 2009 Sanders escorted Vassallo to a Sacramento-area bank to retrieve the $1.2 million of investor money he’d stashed there. Kari Sonovich began pitching Russ Putnam on her investment opportunity—with a “successful British securities trader” named Sir Joseph Birch. 

Sonovich said he was a financial adviser to the Vatican and had special access to the markets that allowed him to make enormously profitable trades. Sonovich claimed Birch could help Putnam make some of his money back. According to the WIRED article, Sonovich and White Elk were staying with Putnam, Sonovich and White Elk were staying with Putnam, and to Dave Sanders the women seemed to be getting increasingly close to Vassallo. 

Putnam’s wife, Charity, would later report to IRS investigators that White Elk confessed that both she and Sonovich were having sex with Vassallo. Before long, according to interviews and court documents, it came to light that Vassallo was using the opiate-based painkiller Oxycontin. Charity Putnam told IRS investigators she thought Sonovich “could control Vassallo with his drug addiction … and took full advantage of it.” WIRED reported the alleged coercion quickly produced results. Sonovich revealed that Vassallo had $872,306 on deposit with an investment firm in Las Vegas. Vassallo’s money was managed by Robert Buckhannon. 


In a meeting held on Sunday, February 9, 2009, Sanders and his team met with Buckhannon after he’d shown up at the office of Brandy White Elk expecting to meet with Vassallo and a prospective investor. According to WIRED, Sanders told Buckhannon he had to immediately initiate a wire transfer of $872,305, the amount Buckhannon allegedly owed Vassallo’s investors. 

If Buckhannon cooperated, he’d have no further problems. If he refused, court documents show, a member of the recovery team told him that federal agents would harass him and that his business would be ruined. Sanders handed Buckhannon wiring instructions for “Sir Joseph Birch’s” purported account in the UK, and Buckhannon hastily pulled a laptop out of his satchel. He used an open Wi-Fi connection to log in to his bank account and ordered the transfer. 

When it was done, he showed them the confirmation screen, Sanders recalled. 

In March 2009, the federal government filed civil and criminal complaints against Vassallo, charging him with multiple counts of fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, and securities violations. The court appointed Stephen Anderson, a retired banker, to act as a receiver to recover funds for investors, and he soon went after Buckhannon’s firm. 

The receiver demanded that the company return money that Vassallo had invested, but a few days before an evidentiary hearing was to be held before a federal magistrate judge, Buckhannon’s firm hastily declared bankruptcy and hasn’t repaid any of the money. 

The $872,305 disappeared into the purported “Sir Joseph Birch” fund and has yet to be recovered.

And it likely never will.  

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