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They thought they were investing in high-end whiskies and champagnes with the potential to earn returns as high as 110 per cent in three months.

Instead, it turns out 300 Americans and Canadians who invested $48-million in the scheme were targets of a sophisticated boiler-room fraud run out of Britain.

The British Serious Fraud Office said Tuesday it had secured a conviction in the case after Richard Gunter admitted he "dishonestly obtained money from investors." He received a five-year sentence.

A jury was unable to reach a decision on a second alleged participant in the case, Robin Grove, and the Serious Fraud Office says it will not seek a re-trial of the matter.

The investment scam, involving a company known as Vintage Hallmark Plc, was the last to be prosecuted of three related schemes involving some of the same players and similar circumstances. Mr. Gunter was sentenced in 2008 to four and a half years in prison for running a similar fraudulent wine investment business called Vintage Wines of St. Albans.

"I am please with the outcome of the three linked cases," Serious Fraud Office director Richard Alderman said in a statement Tuesday.

"Over the past few years, the SFO has successfully prosecuted a number of individuals connected with these frauds. This brings a close to past wrongdoings."

The Serious Fraud Office is the U.K. government department responsible for investigating and prosecuting complex fraud cases.

In the Vintage Hallmark case, sales staff contacted American and Canadian investors with pitches to purchase whisky, cognac, champagne and other alcoholic products with promises of high rates of return.

Some were promised a 50-per-cent return over 10 months from investing in champagne and a 110-per-cent return over three months for buying whisky. Before the returns were paid, sales staff were told to "roll over" the investments into new products, giving investors the impression their investments were successful and growing in value.

The scheme grew more complex when investors were urged to convert their investment returns into promissory notes for payment, which were then swapped for shares in Vintage Hallmark. Documents provided to investors contemplating the swap were found to have misrepresented the true financial position of the company. The shares quickly turned out to be worthless and the company was placed into liquidation.

Victims invested £30-million before the scheme ended, worth $48-million (Canadian) at current exchange rates.

"Had it been a genuine business and had it delivered to investors ... what it claimed could be achieved, the £30-million was projected to have become £100-million," the Serious Fraud Office said in its release. "But it was all a sham."