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24 July 2013, 12:10
Three conmen who left thousands of victims penniless as they frittered stolen money on a private jet, yachts and holiday homes in the Caribbean have been jailed.
Richard Pope, Paul Gunter and Simon Odoni lived life in the lap of luxury while defrauding at least 2,300 Britons, many of whom lost their entire life savings and one of whom was driven to suicide.
They were jailed at a court in Florida, where Gunter, 64, was sentenced to 25 years and Odoni, 56, to 13 years and four months and Pope, 55, was sentenced to four years and nine months.
Detective Inspector Kerrie Gower said: "Pope, Gunter and Odoni are amongst the most ruthless and destructive criminals the City of London Police have ever dealt with and deserve every day they will spend behind bars in America.
"Unfortunately this sentencing will not repair the huge damage they caused to the lives of thousands of people who were simply looking for a safe place to invest their money, but hopefully it will bring a measure of comfort and a sense of closure to those caught up in what was fraud committed on a truly massive scale.''
The £85 million scam, a so-called boiler room fraud where unsuspecting investors hand over cash for worthless shares, was one of the biggest of its kind ever uncovered in the UK.
A total of seven defendants were charged in March 2009, and two years later Pope, originally from St Albans, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Gunter, from London, and Odoni, also from St Albans, stood trial in March this year, forcing three British victims to fly from the UK to Florida to face them in court.
Another three were too ill to travel but gave evidence in the UK and the video footage was played as part of the trial. Gunter and Odoni were found guilty in May.
Ms Gower said that the trio milked as much money as they could to fund their lifestyle partying on yachts, driving sports cars including a Ferrari and travelling in a private jet.
"These were arrogant criminals who were just ripping off UK investors,'' she said. "Taking as much as they could from them and having criminal lifestyles, lavish lifestlyes, whereby they were purchasing boats, a plane and high value vehicles. We have 26 properties down in relation to Paul Gunter alone.''
Police said he and Odoni, who was hiding in the Dominican Republic to avoid extradition for his crimes, have so far shown no remorse.
Odoni was only caught when a flight he was on suffered engine trouble and had to unexpectedly divert to Miami. He therefore had to land on US soil and was arrested.
Their thousands of victims included Mark Goswami, who tragically took his own life after he was defrauded of more than £70,000.
His widow Andrea, 48, from Yorkshire, said: "I'm very, very angry, and no sentence in my eyes will be long enough for what they've done, the damage that they've done.
"They've defrauded whole families, just destroyed their dreams for their families' futures.''
Ms Gower said she was shocked by the devastation that the fraud had caused.
"I didn't think I would see or experience any of this. You had people that had lost all their life savings, people that have lost properties and had to down scale, people that have lost in relation to their futures, in planning for their children to go to university, their marriages breaking down.
"I don't think people realise the impact that fraud can have, and just what these individuals have done.
"Some of the victims have died and will never see an end to what was going on.
"They are probably the most arrogant criminals that I've come across.''
The scam began in 2004 when the trio stole details of dormant publicly traded companies to use for their fraud.
They employed hundreds of staff in call centres in Spain, who would phone potential victims and lure them into buying the shares.
The gang used a website to trick their targets into thinking that their investments were moving up or down to persuade them to pump in more cash, or as an excuse for why they were losing money.
Staff, who made around 50 cold calls each per day, would use high pressure sales techniques and lied that members of their own families had invested money.
Pope, Gunter and Odoni's jail terms come at the end of a seven-year investigation involving City of London Police, US authorities, the Serious Fraud Office and Norfolk Police.