A businessman at the heart of a collapsed care home firm that owes millions of pounds to investors was involved in a property scam in America, the BBC can reveal.
Sean Murray sold homes in Detroit, Michigan, to UK investors that turned out to be derelict shells, BBC Inside Out North East and Cumbria has found.
His firm Carlauren later attracted £76m in investment in care homes before being placed into administration.
Mr Murray denies any wrongdoing.
Carlauren entered administration in November 2019 with £40m unaccounted for, the Insolvency and Companies Court heard.
In return for paying tens of thousands of pounds for a room in one of Carlauren’s 25 luxury care homes, investors were promised payouts from residents’ housing fees.
Some of the homes were claimed to operate as hotels with specialist care facilities.
One of those care homes was supposed to be Windlestone Hall near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, which the firm bought for £850,000 in 2017.
But despite £8.5m being given by investors, the stately home, which was the birthplace of former prime minister Anthony Eden, remained derelict.
Other properties marketed by Carlauren for care home investment included:
- Shires Care Resort, Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire – now derelict and abandoned
- Bridlington Care Resort, Bridlington, East Yorkshire – abandoned
- Hacketts House, Blackpool, Lancashire – boarded up and abandoned
- King’s bar, Sandown, Isle of Wight – derelict and abandoned
- Bancourt Hotel, Torquay, Devon – boarded up and abandoned
- Hurst Manor, Martock, Somerset, – boarded up
- Lindors Country House, Lydney, Gloucestershire – operating as a regular hotel
The BBC has now unearthed evidence Mr Murray was involved in a scam in the US about a decade ago.
UK investors were invited to buy homes in Detroit, receiving a monthly rent from tenants in return.
The victims spent thousands of pounds after being shown pictures of the homes but in reality the houses were derelict.
Private investigators for one investor, Doug Allanson, found the house he had bought was inhabited by wild dogs.
Mr Allanson paid $27,000 (about £21,600) to one of Mr Murray’s firms, New Orbit, for the house in Detroit.
“(The picture) shows a house in good condition – it says it has been completely refurbished – it’s all in spiffing condition – lovely tree lined street,” he told the BBC.
For the first four months he received $750 (about £600) a month in rent but then the money stopped and communication from New Orbit ceased.
He enlisted a private investigator to visit the house.
“They couldn’t get out of their car when they went to see the property because they were being attacked by a wild pack of dogs who were living in the property,” Mr Allanson said.
“The front door was kicked in and (the investigator’s) photos show boarded up windows. It seemed clear that the property had been empty for some considerable time.”
Detroit-based property developer Shea Woods said the city attracted investors about 10 years ago because housing was cheap.
He was briefly enlisted by Mr Murray to help sell property after posting videos on YouTube.
“He and a couple of guys came from the UK with their suits and say ‘hey we sold this property here for $50,000’,” Mr Wood said.
“I said ‘How the hell do you sell this property for $50,000 in this condition?’
“He said ‘I just need to take some pictures so I can show the client. The deal is done already but he just needs to see some pictures’.”
Mr Woods said the kitchen was given a quick makeover with a sink, drywall and tiles laid so pictures could be taken, but it was purely cosmetic.
Mr Woods said he backed out at that point because it was “not right”.
He has since worked to help expose such scams, including acting for one woman from Yorkshire who spent $35,000 (about £28,000) on a New Orbit house.
When he went to investigate her house, he found it was “condemned on the demolition list” and the photo she had seen before the purchase was actually the house next door.
“That’s crazy,” Mr Woods said.
Fifteen allegations of investment fraud were made to Action Fraud and investigated by the Metropolitan Police’s Economic Crime Unit in November 2013.
In July 2016 the case was closed with no arrests made.
A Met spokesman said: “Should any new information come to light it will be reviewed to ascertain if the case should be reopened.”
When confronted by the BBC at a second hand car lot at Bournemouth, where he now works, Mr Murray said he “can’t remember ten years ago”.
He denied people had been scammed and said he had been “involved for two or three months and it went on for two years after that”.
He said he had no knowledge of the cases the BBC had put to him.
Mr Murray said: “I was involved in purchasing properties on behalf of the people that were selling them, renovating those properties and then they started misrepresenting the way they were selling them and I stepped out of it immediately.”
He called claims he faked pictures “rubbish”, adding: “Many houses were refurbished to a high standard and the pictures were sent.”
“I can’t comment on what other people did when I was no longer involved.” Mr Murray said, adding: “And I know it carried out for a long time and that’s why I was no longer involved.”
Company records seen by the BBC show Mr Murray was behind the Detroit investment scheme for at least three years.
You can more on this story on BBC Inside Out North East & Cumbria on BBC One at 19:30 GMT on Monday 16 March and afterwards on BBC iPlayer.