West End Eddie is back

Edward Ormus Sharrington Davenport, the notorious UK socialite dubbed Lord Fraud, Fast Eddie, and the Wolf of the West End, is back in business after eight years in prison.

It did not take long before the man dubbed Lord Fraud by the British media was in the headlines again. In September 2016, The Sun, a UK tabloid, gleefully reported that convicted fraudster and notorious socialite Edward Ormus Sharrington Davenport, who used a Lord of the Manor title he had bought, was making a “comeback on the sex party scene after hosting a school-themed orgy.”

A handsome and charismatic bon vivant, Lord Davenport, 50, had become famous in London in the mid-1980s as a 20-something co-organizer of wild parties, known as Gatecrasher Balls, frequented by rich, often underage, teenage members of the upper class. The events were “notorious for being wild child orgies of drinking, snogging, groping and vomiting,” according to TV presenter Jaswinder Bancil. One of Davenport’s parties, a 2005 gathering organized by the Rothschild family, “was attended by Princes William and Harry,” according to The Independent. The newspaper, in another article, estimated the parties, held at large and grand mansions, were “attended by up to 10,000 partygoers at any one time and at the height of their success were generating £1,000,000 [$1.6 million] a year.”

Davenport stayed clear of legal trouble until an audit by HM Customs & Excise found he had underpaid his value-added tax and understated his income by more than £24,000. He spent two weeks in prison in 1990 for tax evasion until his nine-month sentence was suspended. As a result of the charges, the Gatecrasher Balls were discontinued.

The man, by now known as Fast Eddie, became entangled in another legal matter in the late ’90s when he acquired a £50,000 lease on a stately building that housed the London embassy of Sierra Leone, an impoverished African nation embroiled in a civil war at the time. Davenport had originally negotiated to refurbish its dilapidated condition but, following acquisition of the lease, he claimed the property as his private residence. A legal battle with Sierra Leone tilted in Davenport’s favour and he paid another small amount to gain ownership of a building estimated to be worth many millions of pounds.

Known as Portland Place, the five-storey mansion had 110 rooms, Davenport told Vice in a 2015 documentary, Wolf of the West End. It became the home for a new era of sex parties and photography shoots and was used as a location for some scenes in the Oscar-winning picture The King’s Speech.

It was common for Davenport to be seen in photographs with celebrities such as Sarah Ferguson, David Beckham, Simon Cowell and actor Michael Caine.

FROM PORTLAND PLACE TO PRISON

A few skirmishes with local governments over the use of the mansion for the hedonistic parties were Davenport’s only legal blemishes for several years. That ended in 2009, however, when the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charged him with being the ring-leader of an elaborate advance-fee fraud.

The scheme began when Davenport, along with several co-conspirators, bought a dormant 50-year-old company called Gresham Ltd. in 2005. They used Gresham as a front for a business that offered commercial loans of £10 million or more in return for substantial up-front fees.

“To outward appearances it was long-established, wealthy and prestigious,” said Simon Mayo, QC for the prosecution, The Guardian reported in 2011. “It operated from expensive London premises and had a balance sheet showing significant assets. It had a flattering corporate brochure and used headed notepaper that lent an image of corporate credibility. That image, however, deliberately cultivated by these defendants, was entirely false. It was essentially worthless. Its only business was fraud.”

A report by ITV during the trial said that Davenport had “pocketed £4 million [other estimates had it at £4.5 million] worth of fees” in a fraud that prosecutors estimated fleeced some £12 million from at least 51 victims.

Judge Peter Testar had no understanding of what he was dealing with, Davenport told Vice years later. “I ended up in [the] courtroom with a judge who had a very, very basic knowledge, to say the least, of business. He’d never been a businessman. He’d never done business. He’d never set up a company in his life and it really messed up the whole trial. [At one point], the judge said, ‘Oh you don’t leave many footprints in the snow.’ So basically there was no evidence against me.”

The court disagreed.

Davenport was jailed for nearly eight years in Wandsworth Prison in London. He was released early in 2014 on compassionate grounds after having a kidney transplant while handcuffed to a bed in a prison hospital. His problems relating to the advance-fee fraud, however, were far from over.

In July 2014, Judge Testar ordered him to pay £13.9 million in confiscation and compensation resulting from his fraudulent activities, the SFO noted in a news release, and an additional £1.9 million in costs. He was given six months to pay or face 10 years in prison if he defaulted.

In May 2015, it was reported that Davenport had sold Portland Place for an estimated £27 million. After paying £14 million, Davenport won a victory of sorts when he recouped £2 million from “his worst enemy,” as he characterized the SFO, after challenging the amount assessed against him.

BACK IN BUSINESS

Considering his losing battles with the legal system, and his poor health, it might seem logical that Davenport would slip out of the limelight and enjoy whatever years he had left in relative obscurity.

Not so.

In November 2015, The Independent profiled Davenport, noting that the man who Judge Testar described in court as “very, very dishonest” — and barred from holding any directorships for 10 years — “says he is back in business and doing deals.” Those included property transactions with a Chinese business partner, the paper reported, and an interest in buying a film studio.

He told the MailOnline a month later that he was “back in business and would continue his climb up to the top of the ladder and make his millions. The highs and lows of people who live in the fast lane are more drastic because they would take bigger risks,” he said. “It’s a bit like Snakes and Ladders — you build it up and up and up, but then you can just fall back down. It’s exciting if you’re in that game. I have had a lot of ups and downs but I’ve never stopped progressing.”

That declaration could be cause for concern, considering the history of the person who made it.

In a sit-down interview during the filming of the Vice documentary, in which Davenport is seen cavorting with semi-clad women as part of a video shoot for Playboy, he said that prisons should be reserved for real criminals, “people who are a danger to the public, who had a fight in the street, who robbed old ladies, who raped, had a sexual offence, not people who do a financial offence. The idea that somebody is a criminal because they’ve been involved in white-collar crime is just absolute nonsense. It’s just not correct.”

He claimed that no individuals suffered because of his actions — which was refuted in the documentary by one of his victims, who said his life had been destroyed because of Davenport. “You’ve got due diligence, you’ve got all these things you have to do,” Davenport continued, suggesting that because the loans were so large, “it was nonsense to think there’s some vulnerable, innocent person out there who’s applied for a ten-million-pound loan.”

Prisons, he said, are not for people who commit financial crimes. “In my opinion, [white-collar crimes] shouldn’t even be penalized in the same way [as non-financial crimes].”

Now living in another expansive mansion, across the road from Portland Place, Davenport hosted the school-themed sex party in September 2016. “The event, where women were encouraged to dress as ‘school girls’ and men as ‘headmasters’...was organized by Killing Kittens, the sex-party firm set up by Emma Sayle, a school friend of the Duchess of Cambridge,” the MailOnline wrote. “The Mail on Sunday understands at least one sex party a week takes place, and Davenport receives rent and some proceeds from the bar. A regular at Killing Kittens’ parties said: ‘I’ve been to maybe eight or nine KK parties [there]. Eddie’s always there, an Oriental lady on his arm, velvet smoking jacket, no shirt, Gucci slip-ons, no socks, top hat and cane.’”

Fast Eddie, who a friend described in the Wolf of the West End as having a side “that is the nicest guy in the world and [another] which is almost psychopathic,” appears to be back in action. It would be comforting to think that he had learned some lessons when it comes to fraud but, based on his words and actions since being released from prison, he hardly seems to have slowed down at all.

About the Author

David Malamed


David Malamed, CPA, CA•IFA, CPA (Ill.), CCF, CFE, CFI, is a partner in forensic accounting at Grant Thornton LLP in Toronto.

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