A sweet-talking swindler has gone to ground after playing one too many tricks. Welsh farmer Richard Wyn Lewis, 42 — who is believed to have been operating under several names and previously served 8 months in jail for insurance fraud — has reportedly been conning people into “selling” their horses before funds have cleared.
He is thought to have masqueraded as a bona fide English event rider. There is now a warrant for his arrest in Britain and Ireland.
Owner Noleen Kieran, from Co Louth, advertised her Vechta home-bred Pension Plan (pictured above) in January. A man called her on 16 January, wanting to buy him immediately for €2,000.
“He said the money would be in my bank by Monday morning and he would collect that day,” said Mrs Kieran. “I googled his name and he seemed to be a reputable event rider in England.”
The buyer had the horse vetted and rang Mrs Kieran 3 times daily to check his money had transferred. By Monday morning, the payment had still not arrived, but as the transporters — who have a good reputation — came to collect the horse, she let him go.
“The buyer called and said he understood if I wanted to pull out, but he’d pay me cash in person,” said Mrs Kieran. “He offered my daughter a job in his yard. He was convincing and I felt under pressure as the transporters were waiting.
“It was during that spell of bad weather, when internet services were down, so it seemed reasonable.”
For 4 weeks, the buyer strung Mrs Kieran along, calling to check if the payment had arrived. But since failing to attend a meeting to pay personally, he has been uncontactable.
Mrs Kieran had been told the horse had been spotted in Wales — near where he was delivered — until last week, but he has since disappeared and she has lost hope of tracing him.
Wait for the payment
Jacqui Fulton, a solicitor specialising in the equestrian industry, said that because horse thefts usually come under civil law, the best victims can hope for — even if they trace the horse — is a county court judgement. This should legally enforce payment, but is useless if the defendant has no assets.
“Don’t let go of your horse until funds have cleared,” said Ms Fulton. “A bankers draft or cheque is not enough — fraudsters don’t care that it’s illegal to cancel a cheque.”
The Gardai (Irish police) advised Mrs Kieran to post an advert about the theft on the website she had used to sell the horse. She received 8 calls alerting her to Richard Wyn Lewis, who since 2012 has gathered a reputation for acquiring horses without paying and then disappearing.
“This rang a bell because he told the vet his name was Richard Wyn Lewis, but to me he called himself Ian Wills,” she said.
There is an English event rider called Ian Wills, who was horrified to find his name being used in this manner and went to the police.
Mr Wills had “no idea” that his identity and reputation was being used to acquire horses dishonestly until a friend, fellow 4-star event rider Francis Whittington, alerted him last month (22 February) following the theft of Noleen Kieran’s Pension Plan under Ian’s name.
The case is now with the police fraud department.
“It’s very unnerving,” said Ian, who fears his own reputation has been sullied. “It’s hard enough making a name for yourself in this industry without having mud slung at you.”
Wyn Lewis is also known to have used the names Rhys Williams and Ian Evans.
He nearly caught out another Irish vendor, using the name Rhys Williams and with an accomplice to masquerade as a bank manager. But the vendor realised the con just in time.
“He said he’d pay €10,500 (£8,750) for a pair of my 2-year-olds and would transfer funds immediately,” said John Keane from Co Limerick. “He said I could call his bank manager, a Mark Lord at Lloyds TSB in Bangor, which I checked online [listed as regional agricultural manager].
“The next day the money was not there, and he put me on the phone to ‘Mark Lord’, who vouched for Rhys Williams’ bank balance.”
But, when the horses were at the port, bad weather intervened and before the next crossing, Mr Keane was tipped off. After checking that “Rhys Williams’” phone numbers were the same as those given to Noleen for “Ian Wills”, he pulled out of the deal.
Wyn Lewis’ methods vary and probably involve several accomplices, but he tends to build good rapports, which is how he has swindled wily Irish dealers.
In 2012 he bought, and paid for, 2 horses from an Irish dealer, who wishes to remain anonymous. They became friends and the dealer recommended him to his neighbours. But 6 months later, Wyn Lewis took a third horse without paying and vanished.
“I’m not a gullible person, but I trusted him because we were friends and he’d paid me previously,” said the dealer.
The Gardai and police told H&H they cannot comment on an “ongoing investigation”. The Gardai confirmed there is a warrant out for Richard Wyn Lewis’ arrest.
H&H tried to contact him on 3 numbers he has been using, but there was no response.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (13 March, 2014)