Florida court hands down sentences of up to 25 years against men who peddled worthless shares in 'boiler-room' scheme

© PA/City of London policeRichard Pope at the wheel of a sports car. He is one of three British conmen jailed for £85m in boiler-room fraud.
Three British conmen who left thousands of victims penniless as they frittered £85m in stolen money on a private jet, yachts and holiday homes in the Caribbean have been jailed by a Florida court.

Richard Pope, Paul Gunter and Simon Odoni lived a luxurious life 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. Odoni, 56, was given 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 £85m scheme - a so-called boiler room fraud where unsuspecting investors hand over cash for worthless shares - is 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. Three British victims flew from the UK to Florida to give evidence.

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.

Gower said 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, had so far shown no remorse.

Odoni was 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 killed himself 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."

The scam began in 2004 when the trio stole details of dormant publicly traded companies. 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 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.

Source: Press Association