Foreign property dream turned sour for ‘psychic swindler’ Tom Colton
23rd April 2022
Tom Colton was a 24-year-old accountant and his girlfriend Linda Barden a 23-year-old banker when the Worldwide Property Show expo was held at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin in 1999.
The couple had been put off buying a home in Ireland due to rising prices and were instead looking to buy a foreign property for around £40,000 as an investment and occasional holiday home.
Interviewed by The Irish Times at the event, they said they hoped the income would help get them on the property ladder in Ireland.
Some time in the years that followed, that dream turned sour. Last February, the now Mr and Mrs Colton threw themselves at the mercy of the High Court and obtained approval for personal insolvency arrangements writing off millions of euro in debt, much of it linked to property.
The couple’s failure to declare one of those investments, the purchase last September of a villa in Lanzarote, could now threaten to unravel their arrangements and the protection from creditors that comes with them.
Their personal insolvency practitioner has told the Irish Independent he would be looking for an explanation and may have to bring the matter to the attention of the High Court and the Coltons’ creditors.
Colton also had a limousine business and dabbled in property development.
Since 2009, he has claimed to be a medium who is able to communicate with the dead. He set up the Spiritualist Union of Ireland and is a registered solemniser.
Since 2016, he and his wife have operated a company called Grá Agus Solas ULC, which provides solemnisers for wedding ceremonies.
In court filings, Colton is described as the company’s operations manager. His wife, who owns all the shares in the business, is listed as an accounts administrator.
The failure to declare the Lanzarote villa is far from Colton’s first brush with controversy.
In the mid-2000s, he was a leading figure in a $600m property development on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.
A glitzy launch in Dublin in 2005 was attended by St Lucia’s then prime minister Kenny Anthony and soccer star Damien Duff, although the former international would later wash his hands of the project and did not invest.
Thirty Irish investors provided €2.3m in seed capital for the Sapphire Cove plan, which was to involve apartments, townhouses and hotels. But by the following year, the company behind the project had dissolved.
Colton later told the Sunday World all of the investors got their money back.
Then, in 2015, he was given a four-year sentence, with the final 18 months suspended, after pleading guilty to the theft of €322,070 from Co Monaghan couple Hugh and Mary McNally in 2005, when he was working as an accountant. The conviction led to him being dubbed “the psychic swindler” in reports.
Dublin Circuit Court heard the McNallys had been seeking to make a tax settlement, but after Hugh McNally showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Colton dealt with his wife, who had never been part of the day-to-day running of their business.
The court heard a cheque was written for an initial sum, but Colton later called Mrs McNally to say he had good news and that a lower sum would settle the matter.
She agreed to his request for a blank signed cheque, which Colton then made out for €400,000 and lodged to a bank account he controlled.
Only €78,000 of the money was paid to the Revenue Commissioners, with the remainder being transferred to a company in the US.
No explanation was given by Colton as to why he did this, but the theft occurred just a month after the Sapphire Cove launch.
It came to light when Mrs McNally realised in 2009 how little had been paid in tax. After Colton was challenged by one of her sons, he admitted filling out the blank cheque and using the funds for his own purposes.
Judge Michael O’Shea described the crime as “extraordinarily dishonest and fraudulent” and “coldly calculated”. Colton claimed to have been “under enormous pressure” at the time, that certain creditors were demanding repayment of debts “in a menacing way” and that he feared for the safety of his family.
Mrs McNally brought a civil case against the firm where Colton worked and was awarded €240,000, paid out by an insurance company.
But she was still at a loss of €83,000. Colton pledged to repay her and the insurers and earlier this year told the Irish Independent the issue was resolved.