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Fake bomb detector maker made millions from trick

By Atika Shubert, CNN
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James McCormick is the man behind the ADE 651 bomb detector
  • But the device is fake and contains "nothing inside," says Detective Inspector Heath
  • "He targeted countries where terrorism and violence was rife," Heath said.
  • McCormick made millions and spent his earnings on a luxurious lifestyle

(CNN) -- The ADE 651 stood for "Advanced Detection Equipment". And it certainly looked the part. Sleek black casing. A swivelling antenna that was said to detect everything from bombs to 100 dollar bills. A card that indicated what the device had found.

In video recorded by James McCormick, the man behind the skyrocketing sales of ADE 651, police in Niger can be seen using the device searching for explosives by a live minefield.

Just one problem: It doesn't work. British police say the ADE 651 is really the "Gopher" a novelty golf-ball finder with the label removed.

This device, independent tests show, has no better than a random chance at finding a golf ball, much less a bomb.

Maker of fake bomb detector gets 10 years in prison

"These devices contain absolutely nothing inside. There's no laws of science or physics that could make them work," Detective Inspector Edward Heath told CNN. "He is a conman. He uses sleight of hand, absurd sales tactics to actually con governments, officials, private individuals out of money to buy this device."

Dogs compete with tech to detect bombs

McCormick spent less than 18 months as an entry level policeman in the Liverpool area before becoming a salesman of radio equipment. With his sales patter and his brief time as a policeman, McCormick was a convincing pitch man.

In a training video to potential salesmen in India, McCormick can clearly be heard saying he "worked with explosives" during his time with the British police.

"He targeted countries where terrorism and violence was rife," Heath said. "They had such terrible problems with violence and terrorism, they were desperate for any measure to prevent them from happening. The countries that he targeted also didn't have proper testing methods or any scientific laboratories to make sure they worked. They very much took the trust of the person selling it. And James McCormick came across as an honest and reliable businessman. But in fact he was a con man."

It was the 'Made in the UK' label on the ADE 651 that tipped off British police. They found that McCormick had the components made separately in Britain, then assembled them himself at his office in an old dairy farm in Somerset, England.

Police investigators believe it cost him less than $60 to make each device. In at least one case, he sold them for as much as $300,000 a piece. He sold the devices to government agencies and private companies around the world.

But it wasn't just a good sales line that allowed McCormick, over a 10-year period, to become a millionaire from a fraudulent device. An Iraqi general has been jailed for procuring the ADE 651 through "unauthorized" channels. British police believe that McCormick paid off officials to buy the ADE 651 in bulk. Iraq's law enforcement agencies bought 6,000 of the devices to scan for explosives at checkpoints, many of them still in use today, potentially endangering lives.

It was a profitable business. His company made between $60 million and £80 million. He spent it on property, an $8 million luxurious historic home in Bath -- previously owned by Hollywood star Nicholas Cage -- with a swimming pool in the basement.

He also bought a million dollar yacht and holiday homes in Cyprus and Florida. Police are now trying to seize these assets.

"We will do our utmost to make sure that James McCormick never lives off the proceeds of crime," Heath said. "What we intend to do is make sure his assets are confiscated, so that he cannot live a life of luxury off his crime."

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