Montevino Partners: Say Goodbye To Your Money

Update 12/16: All the below refers to the company Spirited Ventures Ltd, who traded as Montevino Partners. In mid-2016, Spirited Ventures Ltd went into liquidation and folded (leaving a lot of debt). Montevino Partners Ltd is a separate company, formed by the same director, seemingly employing the same people, trading as Montevino Partners, with the same website URL and phone number.

In 2015, I was interested in investing some money in fine wines (which can increase in value, and the increases aren’t covered by Capital Gains Tax), and contacted Montevino Partners. I made six purchases of wine, and two of the orders are still to be delivered. Their terms and conditions state a 90 day delivery window, but since the purchases were mid-2015, that’s long gone. Letters from me and my solicitor were ignored. So I’ve paid for items but never received them, and Montevino Partners give zero fucks. Let me repeat that to be clear: Montevino have taken my money and not delivered.

While I’ve been trying to get some kind of refund from them, more information about their business practices has come to light. I’ve put all the information I’ve learnt below, but there’s also some parallel coverage of this company on wine writer and expert Jim Budd’s blog InvestDrinks. It’s worth pointing out that Montevino Partners is a trading name of Spirited Ventures Ltd, but I’ll continue to refer to them as Montevino.

Update 02/17: After Spirited Ventures Ltd folded, they re-launched as Montevino Partners Ltd, and it sounds like that’s now going down the pipes too, to be replaced with a proposed “MVP Wine Club”. More information about this latest “venture” on another blog post at InvestDrinks.

Tom White

According to Companies House, Tom White is the sole director of the company.

Tom White: Boss of a Den of Thieves
Tom White: Serial Director

I’ve had almost no contact with him ever, but he’s the guy who put his name down in Companies House, so all the bad business is done under his watch. Let me repeat what I said earlier: Tom White’s company has taken my money, ignored my communications, and not delivered.

Michael Moore

Since I started having dealings with Montevino, lots of staff have come and gone. The only constants are Tom White and Michael Moore, who is supposed to be a senior portfolio manager (I think).

Michael Moore: Conman
Michael Moore: Fraudster

I visited Montevino at their London offices, in November 2015, and went for a drink with Michael and another guy, who was supposedly my portfolio manager at that time. Michael was very keen to know how much money and assets I had, and when I said I wanted to invest in a wide array of investments (property and stocks as well as wine), he genuinely pushed me into giving the amount of money I had. At the time, I just put this down to usual salesman tactics, but in hindsight, he was measuring me up, to see how much he could get out of me.

Since meeting Michael, I’ve done a fair bit of online research into the company and its staff. One of the most interesting, and worrying, things I found was that Michael was a known conman. He’s due to appear before court in November 2016 for fraud he committed at another company.

Update 12/16: I found that on the 9th December 2016, Michael was unanimously found guilty of fraud at Maidstone Crown Court. He is due to be sentenced in Jan 2017. From what I’ve read about Fraud convictions, given the scope of his crime, he stands to be given a 4 to 7 year custodial sentence.

Update 01/17: On the 19th January 2017, Michael was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his past fraud. This was the maximum sentence he could be given. I guess he’ll be passing on his excellent wine advice to his fellow inmates.

Michael Moore isn’t a company director for Montevino Partners, but he’s definitely one of the key people. I’ve had only one, short email from the sole director, Tom White, but lots of contact from Michael. I suspect that Michael Moore pulls the strings while Tom White is the public front. It’s a smart move, because if you look at company officers at Companies House, you only see Tom White, and there doesn’t appear to be anything negative about him online, unlike Michael.

Lauren Cherry

I’ve never had any contact with Lauren Cherry, and have no idea whether she has any relationship with the company any more. However, it seems that she was office manager for them in 2014, as evidenced by her comment on a WhoCallsMe thread and her own LinkedIn profile.

You see, Lauren Cherry also has an interesting background, not in fraud like her buddy Michael, but in outright theft.

Lauren Cherry: Thief
Lauren Cherry: Thief

So we have a company that employs a fraudster and previously employed a thief. This is going well.

London Offices

When I first realised I had a problem with Montevino I contacted Citizen’s Advice. They forward on any complaints to the relevant regional Trading Standards office. I got a call back from City of London Trading Standards because Montevino’s London offices are well-known as being used by shady companies. It seems that 107 Cheapside offers mail forwarding and small short-term office lets, which are ideal for companies that want a respectable-sounding City of London address but without the actual necessity of being a respectable company.

A Den of Thieves
107 Cheapside: A fancy building with a bad reputation
Kent Offices

Their registered offices are in Northfleet, Kent. I’m well-used to companies having less than glamorous offices, but their main business address is a shitty unit behind a petrol station. Having a shitty office address isn’t damming evidence of anything bad, but is another indicator of how shonky this company is, when you start looking into it.

Eagle Way
Eagle Way: Not a very prestigious place

Update 12/16: Montevino have given up on the two above addresses, and have moved their operation to a new address: 26 Kings Hill Avenue, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4AE. A quick search on Companies House reveals that this address is another cover, since there are so many other companies registered at this address. My guess is that this is the address of an accountants firm, or similar, who allow their client companies to use their address as their registered address. So, almost certainly, Montevino do not have an office here.

Wines and Spirits Trade Association

In 2015, Montevino were members of the WSTA, the trade body for the booze industry. As of mid-2016, they were still claiming this on their website, despite no longer being listed on the WSTA site. I contacted WSTA and, reading between the lines of the response, Montevino were given the boot.

Accounts Overdue and Trying to Close

Companies House now shows that their accounts are long overdue and they’ve now put in an application to be struck off the register. As far as I know, this means they’re trying to cut their losses and run. I’ve sent an email to Companies House, objecting to their proposal to be struck off. I don’t know what this will actually solve, but hopefully it causes a bit of trouble for someone at Montevino.

Update 12/16: Tom White has moved all operation from Spirited Ventures Ltd. to Montevino Partners Ltd. now. Spirited Ventures Ltd. is in the process of being wound up. As part of their liquidation, Tom White was supposed to declare all their creditors – which is all the people who they owe (money or orders). Tom White did declare the creditors he owed money to (e.g. Clarendon Hills vineyard), but not any of the customers he owed wine to (e.g. me). Spirited Ventures did declare cash debts of about £600,000 but if you include all the non-declared customers who were owed wine they’d paid for, this debt must be massively higher. It almost goes without saying, but by liquidating Spirited Ventures Ltd, Tom White writes off all the debts. Montevino Partners Ltd doesn’t inherit any of the debts and has no need to settle any of them.

General Shit

Although all of this should be taken with a pinch of salt, there’s a lot of negativity towards the company in this forum. Lots of people seem to have a poor opinion of Montevino and Michael Moore in particular.

So, given all the above, what have I tried?

Phone Calls

The first thing I tried was simply phoning them up. Since about January 2016 I regularly tried to call to get information. Although they used to take my calls, they no longer do. Olga, their administrator always answers the phone, and whenever I ask to speak to someone about my orders, she says that no one is available and I’ll get a call back. When I’ve specifically asked to speak to Michael Moore, she makes up a load of bullshit about why I can’t speak to him. Over the space of two days, I was told that Michael was in a meeting, had gone home early, had car problems and then was on holiday.

Emails and Letters

Citizen’s Advice suggested the first official thing in raising a complaint is a letter, “making time of the essence”. Essentially this means giving a specific date for the problem to be resolved by. If the complaint isn’t resolved by this date, and it goes to court, this shows the judge that you gave them a suitable amount of time to act on your complaint. I sent this by email (to Tom White, the director) and registered post to their London address (which I checked had been signed for).

My Email to Tom White
My Email to Tom White

Surprisingly, I got a response from Tom.

Thank you for your comments, sorry to hear you feel this way, And I assure you not our intention to provide our services this way. Just picked up your email, Please let me look into what has happened and why no progress has been made with your sale request.

As you can imagine, I didn’t hear anything from him after this.

After the deadline I had imposed expired, I got in touch with a solicitor. He sent them an email and letter, initially to their Kent address, which was returned as undeliverable. I pointed out that their clear legal firm branding on the envelope was probably a bit of a give-away, so suggested re-sending in a plain envelope. He did resend the letter, as I suggested, to their London address, which was signed for.

Neither myself or my solicitor has received any response or acknowledgement of his letter. I know they have received them, because the letter was signed for, and I received a call from Montevino minutes after my solicitor sent his email. Since I wanted all communications to be written, not verbal, and I’d instructed them to only communicate through my solicitor, I didn’t take the call.

Action Fraud & Police

I’ve had several people advise me to report them to Action Fraud. It turns out Action Fraud just take your details and pass them on to the local police force (Kent in this case). I did report them to Action Fraud and directly to Kent police, and had a long chat to an officer from Kent police. She took all the details and did some investigation. However, and this boils my piss, their behaviour isn’t technically fraud. If I take something you own, that’d be theft. If I trick you into giving me something you own, that’d be fraud. But if I just say I’ll give you something in exchange for money you give me, and then never deliver, then that’s not a crime but a civil contract dispute.

Civil Action

So Montevino has cleverly walked the tightrope of avoiding theft and fraud, and are in a position where the only action against them is civil action. And civil action costs money. If it were a crime (theft or fraud) then CPS would press the case. But a civil action has to be funded by the individual raising it, and court costs are about 5% of the amount being claimed for. Plus there would be solicitors fees on top of this. My solicitor advised me that it would cost near £10,000 to take Montevino to court. My case is pretty rock-solid so the judge should just award me the amount claimed, plus my costs, but I don’t trust the company at all. I expect them to just declare bankruptcy and close their doors. I’d not get my money back and I’d be a further £10k worse off.

Update 12/16: Looks like I was right to not take them to court. They’ve liquidated, and walked away from all their debts.

Press

Running out of options, I emailed as many media outlets as possible with my story. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste, as I only heard back from The Mirror. Although I generally have a low opinion of the Tabloids, I quite like The Mirror, as they’ve done some solid reporting of events throughout the EU Referendum and political shit-show since.

The Mirror did some investigation into the company, and found it as dodgy as I did. They tried to catch Tom White outside his home, but either had the wrong address or he wasn’t there. It seems the investigation has dried up since then, with nothing more happening.

Other Customers

Every now and again, Montevino send out general marketing emails to all their customers. Their administrator sent an email in May and made a mistake: she put all the recipients in the to field rather than bcc. Because of this, I’ve got the email addresses of a load of Montevino customers (or potential customers).

Olga's Mistake
Whoops!

I’ve not heard from any of these other customers, so no one else is having problems or has taken the initiative. Should I email them all to say what I’ve experienced?

Update 12/16: I did email them. I heard back from about six or seven others, all in the same situation as me. I can only guess that the others either didn’t have a problem or didn’t want to reply to some random guy who emailed them.

Conclusion

Unlike my other posts about bad companies, where I’m just having a bit of a rant about bad customer service or shitty terms and conditions, this company is a bad company.

I’m hugely out of pocket thanks to Montevino, and have no ideas what to do next. I don’t want to throw more good money after bad, as I think civil court action would be a waste of time. Should I email all their customers? Should I try to get the Mirror to continue their investigation? Should I drive down to fucking Kent and sort this out face to face? I don’t know.