In London, continued complaints from his investors made enough impression on Scotland Yard to force it to act. The Fraud Squad built up an impressive dossier on the way Wells acquired his capital, and since they were unable to find that he had repaid the public, a warrant was issued for his arrest. With the cooperation of the French S�ret�, he was arrested in December aboard the Palais Royal at Le Havre. By now the yacht was heavily mortgaged—at an interest rate of 20%—as were his smaller vessels, Kettledrum and Kathalinda; the Isabella and the Ituria had been repossessed by the mortgagees. The Man Who Broke the Bank was himself so broke that he was selling coal from the bunkers of the Palais Royal.
On March 14, 1893 he was convicted on 30 charges of obtaining �50,000 by false pretenses. During the trial, when he wished to pass notes to Edward Abinger, his counsel, he sent them via the usher, whose attention he attracted by tickling his bald head with a feather pen. Abinger, a notable but successful ham, electrified the court during his closing address: How could Wells be a fraud? he asked. Would a man capable of making �8,000 a day at roulette need to stoop to dishonesty? "Gentlemen of the jury, I am going to tell you what his system is."
"And now we will adjourn for lunch," said the judge.
During the lunch recess the judge asked Abinger if he really knew the system. He didn't. Abinger continued his address later:
"Gentlemen of the jury, during the luncheon adjournment I have made up my mind I will not tell you what the system is. If I did, you would desert your wives and families, learned counsel would sell their wigs and gowns, and even his lordship would forsake the judicial bench for Monte Carlo, and English justice cannot afford to lose its greatest figure...."
Wells was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude; he left jail only once, to attend his own bankruptcy proceedings. Years later Dartmoor's governor reminisced: "He was the pleasantest and the most unselfish of all the rascals that passed through my hands."