Art fraudster faces jail

A 'WALTER Mitty' character who pulled off a string of audacious scams to fund a millionaire playboy lifestyle is facing jail after pleading guilty to ten daring frauds.

A 'WALTER Mitty' character who pulled off a string of audacious scams to fund a millionaire playboy lifestyle is facing jail after pleading guilty to ten daring frauds.

Father-of-two Robert Hyams has admitted trying to fleece internationally renowned dealers out of £1.1million worth of masterpieces by top artists such as Marc Chagal and George Braque.

And yesterday, the 51-year-old “fantasist”, who lives near Bury St Edmunds, also confessed to carrying out a deception to obtain tuition fees for his daughters to attend a top private school as well as falsifying bank documents stating he had available funds of £5m for use in future scams.

The pleas bring to an end a career of fraud, which began when Hyams, of Piglet's Place, Culford, successfully bid for six world famous works at Christies, posing as a top biochemist on the brink of a cancer breakthrough.

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Using fake references, he attempted to steal the pieces, all by renowned artists, but his scam was foiled when the auctioneers became suspicious and made in-depth checks into his finances.

As the police net closed in on him, Hyams fled the country with his family, and was eventually tracked down to a rented $3m mansion in a smart Californian suburb 18 months later, where he was living a playboy lifestyle.

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Two brand new Mercedes jeeps - hired on the strength of bogus references - were parked in the driveway.

Earlier this month, Hyams pleaded guilty to six charges of obtaining property by deception at Southwark Crown Court in relation to the attempted art scams, which took place in January and February 2002.

And appearing before magistrates sitting in Bury yesterday, Hyams also admitted two charges of obtaining services by deception, one of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and one of forgery.

He confessed to gaining a Barclays bank account with an overdraft of £12,500 by providing false details in November 2004, while in January of this year he hired a Mercedes at a cost of £40 a day, racking up a bill of £8,000.

Then, between April and August 2004, he sent his two daughters to the King's School in Ely for two terms each, costing £17,000. Finally, this March, he prepared a false letter, purporting to be from the Union Bank of California, stating he had funds of £5m available, which prosecutors said would be used for existing or future deceptions on his part.

Speaking about the art fraud, Det Insp Roderick Goddard said Hyams had presented dealers with fake references, purporting to be from the Union Bank of California but created in his bedroom using a special computer programme.

These documents, which appeared to guarantee his ability to pay, initially tricked Christie's experts. However, they later became suspicious.

“Hyams is a fantasist, a kind of Walter Mitty character who was conning his way through life,” said Det Insp Goddard. “When we caught up with him in America, he was living in a multi-million dollar house and had two jeeps parked in his driveway.

“He went around pretending to be a ground-breaking microbiologist on the verge of a major cancer breakthrough, in fact he was nothing of the sort. Fantasist is the only word for him.”

Hyams will be sentenced for all ten offences at Southwark Crown Court on January 20.

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