FBI are on the trail of Mr Woodz
9:00am Tuesday 1st October 2013 in Latest News
THE FBI are set to join the hunt for conman Christopher Baines in a bid to finally bring him to justice as the fraudster is chased across America.
Baines eluded police capture when he disappeared from the country in 2012 after a preliminary hearing to his trial, which would see him convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for 30 counts of fraud through his Swindon furniture shop.
And since then he has been moving around America, cheating customers and girlfriends out of thousands of dollars, as the Adver revealed yesterday.
Clive Read, of the Wiltshire Police fraud section at Gablecross Police Station, said: “We have applied to the Crown Prosecution Service for expeditions and an international arrest warrant for Mr Baines.
“He is a lifestyle fraudster, and that is all he knows. He is still a wanted man and he knows that. We are aware that the excuses he was giving for not attending court were fabricated.”
After the warrant is issued and Baines is under arrest, the authorities will decide whether to extradite him back to the UK to serve his time or investigate his recent activities in the USA.
“Unfortunately arrest warrants are not as quick as you would like them to be,” Clive added.
“When it is issued it will then go to America for law enforcement there to act upon. Police inquiries from Swindon have involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation in locating Mr Baines.”
Baines’ fraudulent activities continued across the Atlantic, with dozens more victims being drawn in and swindled of their money.
Cindy Lockhart, 48, of Sarasota, Florida, began to realise the scale of Baines’ actions when she was left to deal with the flood of complaints and demands for refunds after she set up a business partnership with him selling sports artwork.
Her experiences of constant excuses and manipulation mirror those of customers and colleagues at the Mr Woodz furniture shop in the Brunel Centre, through which Baines profited by more than £44,000.
“After a couple of meetings with him and a few emails back and forth, I decided to pass on the business because it just seemed to good to be true,” Cindy said.
“He persistently called me back and said he would sweeten the deal.
“He assured me he used to sell his artwork all the time in the UK at motorsports shows and would collect between $15,000 to $40,000 in profit per show.
“I checked how much the artwork could realistically sell for with various manufacturers.
“Finally I agreed to put money into the business in exchange for a contract that would ensure a full refund should I not see the profits from the business he boasted we could realise at two motorsport shows in March 2013.”
Cindy gave Baines $7,500 as a down payment on the business, which was set up in her name after Baines claimed he was having problems securing a visa.
“He also mentioned that he did not have funds for insurance for the show, business cards, a website, or supplies,” Cindy added.
“I spent an additional $5,000 to make this happen, as I genuinely believed him.
“How stupid I was.”
During the first show, the Sebring Mobile 1 61st Annual Motorsports on March 16, Baines failed to reserve a booth or bring the artwork he had promised, instead flogging small unframed photographs for a few dollars each.
“We only sold $1,700 dollars worth, which did not even cover the cost of the booth.
“The money was kept by Chris and I didn't see a penny,” Cindy said.
“I started to become very suspicious and called Chris to the table on many things. He always had a very quick answer. Mostly they sounded reasonable, but often I knew he was lying to us.
“We never attended the second show and I asked for a refund.”
Baines dangled one last carrot for Cindy before he vanished.
“He knew we were on to him so he offered us all expenses paid on a big show coming up in Atlanta, Georgia,” she said.
“Finally the artwork came in but much fewer than he had promised. The pieces were not framed so Chris negotiated a price to have all the pieces framed for $2,000.“ Paula Maffei, owner of Framed Designs in Bradenton, Florida, said: “After a week, the cheque did not arrive, so I called him and his investor to get payment. I could only get his voicemail and he would not return my calls. I called his investor, Cindy Lockhart. That is when it all started to unravel. He had disappeared and we were out $2,000.”
Baines vanished, and Cindy began receiving calls demanding refunds for artwork sold during the shows.
“I never saw him again and never received any of the cash,” she said.
“It was like a game of cat and mouse. I was threatening him with law suits and he was getting pretty violent in his reactions. It was getting to be almost comical with some of his stories.
“I spent the next few weeks answering customer complaints. The credit card transactions that went into the bank account I opened for the company were now being reversed. One after another.
“He gave the customers who ordered their pieces my phone number, and when he would not return their calls they started calling me. I knew nothing about the special orders they placed and had to reverse all the charges. The credit card company thought I was the one committing fraud, since my name was attached to the company and bank account the funds were being deposited to. Then I knew why he didn’t want his name attached to anything.”
Cindy has lost more than $15,000 so far, with refunds still coming out of the business account she had opened with Baines.