By Chris Lang
On 27 July 2020, Savraj Gata-Aura was sentenced to four years in prison for his part in the Bar Works investment scam. More than 800 investors handed over more than US$40 million supposedly as investments in the Bar Works co-working space company. Gata-Aura co-founded Bar Works in 2015 with serial scammer Renwick Haddow.
Gata-Aura was arrested in New York on 23 May 2019 and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud “for engaging in a scheme to defraud victims by making material misrepresentations about the management and operations of a company called Bar Works Inc. and related entities.”
In a press release about the arrest, Geoffrey S. Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, commented that,
“Haddow and co-defendant Savraj Gata-Aura allegedly solicited funds from investors with fictitious claims about Bar Works’ management and performance. They are now being held to account for the blizzard of lies they told to get money from their unsuspecting victims.”
Gata-Aura is also known as Sam Aura. In May 2017, REDD-Monitor wrote about an interview that Sam Aura gave on School for Startups Radio in April 2016:
Gata-Aura’s “primary motivation was greed”
“For more than a year-and-a-half, Savraj Gata-Aura lured hundreds of victims to invest approximately $40 million into a massive Ponzi scheme. He concealed from investors that Bar Works was run by Renwick Haddow, who has pled guilty for his role in this and another fraud scheme, instead listing the fictional CEO ‘Jonathan Black’ in offering documents. By the time the scheme collapsed, Gata-Aura had personally made close to $3 million from unsuspecting investors.”
Haddow hid his involvement in Bar Works by adopting an alias: “Jonathan Black”. He did so because he’d been disqualified as a director in the UK, and sued by the Financial Conduct Authority. Haddow’s record of fraudulent investment schemes is well known.
Gata-Aura was fully aware that “Jonathan Black” was Haddow’s creation, to hide his involvement in Bar Works. The press release about Gata-Aura’s sentencing states that,
“Gata-Aura helped devise and distribute pitch materials that contained the misrepresentation, coordinated a substantial sales force to recruit investors knowing that the materials contained the falsehood, advised Haddow as to how to continue to conceal the truth concerning the identity of ‘Jonathan Black,’ and affirmatively represented to sub-agents for investors that he was communicating with CEO ‘Jonathan Black.’
Gata-Aura aimed to attract investors from outside the US, because it would be more difficult for them to see the Bar Works locations.
In his sentencing, Judge Jed S. Rakoff said that Gato-Aura “lied, cheated, and as a result many victims were left destitute or deprived of money that was important to them.” He added that, “His primary motivation was greed.”
In addition to four years in prison, Gata-Aura was sentenced to three years of supervised release. Gata-Aura also has to repay the nearly US$3 million he took under the Bar Works scam. The press release states that, “The Court will also enter a resititution order at a later date.” In other words, the Court will order Gata-Aura to reimburse victims.
Gata-Aura and Park First
Gata-Aura previously worked in the UK for a company called Park First. The company offered investments in airport car parking spaces and promised a “guaranteed” rate of return. In December 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority shut down Park First because it was an unauthorised collective investment scheme.
In October 2019, the Financial Conduct Authority launched legal action against Park First and a web of companies run by Toby Whittaker. Meanwhile, the Insolvency Service is investigating Whittaker’s Store First investment scheme that claims to have 5,000 investors who handed over a total of £250 million.
After he moved to the US in 2015, Gata-Aura bought a car park in North Charleston in South Carolina. The car park provided parking spaces for people flying from Charleston International airport. The car park offered cheaper long-term rates than the airport car parks.
Gata-Aura bought the North Charleston car park from Adam and Jay Vane, whose family had run the car park since 2001. Gata-Aura convinced them to give him a US$1.3 million loan to buy the site. By November 2019, the loan was in default and Gata-Aura now owes the Vanes nearly US$1 million.
Gata-Aura advertised the Park & Go car park as part of his U.S. Parking Investments business. The company claimed to sell “institutional grade” securities in car parking spaces with returns of 12% per year. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveals that Gata-Aura hoped to raise US$5.6 million from investments in Park & Go. The minimum investment was US$32,000.
In May 2020, Gata-Aura shut down the car park blaming coronavirus for causing a dramatic drop in people flying and therefore in customers for his car park.
The Post and Courier, a Charleston newspaper, notes that, “No criminal charges have been filed related to the parking lot.”