A fantasist conman has been jailed this week for posing as a Formula 1 chief at reigning champion Mercedes following thousands of dollars worth of fraud and theft, and racking up huge hotel bills.
Warwick Crown Court heard how Stuart Howatson, 37, falsely claimed he was chief operations officer at the Mercedes Benz Formula 1 team during 2014 in negotiations to agree deals for expensive computer equipment and systems, and stayed in hotels across the counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire, running up sizeable room bills.
In total, he pled guilty to 12 charges of fraud and one of theft – stealing over $2,000 from a man during a fake job offer with Mercedes.
The court was told how Howatson posed as an F1 chief in deals for security systems worth over $325,000, computer software systems worth almost $27,000 and a $1.1million web security system – although his lawyer pointed out he would not have financially benefited personally.
He was jailed for two years.
He also claimed that his client suffered from a “variety of personality disorders”.
Howatson had previously been jailed in 2010 for convincing a couple in Spain to allow him to stay in their villa under the pretence he had the funds to buy it, and claiming he was a senior figure in the Metropolitan Police.
Although Howatson attended court at the start of his hearing, he was admitted to hospital on the day he was due to be sentenced, the court being told he was “apparently suicidal” – and later learned he was under the care of a mental health crisis team following an overdose.
This delayed the case for over a week.
During sentencing at Coventry Crown Court, recorder Derek Sweeting QC told Howatson, whose jail term had been reduced by a third because of his guilty pleas: “You carried off the deception with a great deal of persuasive skill.
“The victims have commented on the lengths you went to. The real purpose of the fraud was to make you feel better and more powerful, and to carry through the persona of being chief operations officer for the Mercedes-Benz racing team.”
Mercedes F1 team statement
When contacted for a response to the conviction, the Mercedes F1 team stated: “Mercedes-Benz GP Ltd has worked closely with Warwickshire Police on this matter and would like to thank them for their support in bringing it to a conclusion.
“Mr Howatson fraudulently used the company name and wrongly declared himself to be an authorized person acting for the company.
“We regret the damage and trouble this behaviour caused to third parties, in addition to how it impaired our own business.
“We are pleased that this matter has now been brought to a close.”