A multi-millionaire fraudster is facing up to 20 years in a US jail after admitting ripping off thousands of investors in Britain's biggest "boiler room" scam.
Richard Pope, 53, funded a lifestyle of fast cars, yachts and private jets as his international gang pressurised pensioners over the phone into buying non-existent shares. His crime empire made over £100 million as more than 2,300 victims were bullied into handing over life savings, detectives believe. One victim alone lost more than £800,000.
As Pope pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy at the Middle District of Florida District Court, British detectives condemned him for leaving a trail of victims destitute.
Detective Superintendent (DS) Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police's Economic Crime Directorate, led the investigation in partnership with US authorities. He said: "He and the guys who did this are on a par with some of the most ruthless villains out there," he told the Press Association.
DS Wishart told how most of the victims were retired pensioners from the UK who trusted Pope with their life savings.
He added: "They did not deserve what they have got, they thought they were going to be able to look after their families for years to come with this. But instead many of them have ended up divorced, homeless or have had to come out of retirement and get jobs.
"For some of these people there will be no closure. This has scared them for life. The psychological effects cannot be underestimated. It is the worst case I have dealt with."
Boiler room scams involve fraudsters using high pressure sales tactics to con investors into buying non-tradable, overpriced or even non-existent shares. They are thought to cost the UK around £200 million a year.
Pope spent two years on the run before his arrest, police said. The bachelor, who was extradited to the US from Spain, helped sell fake shares and options to unsuspecting investors between July 2004 and March 2008.
His crime gang stole the identity, history and shareholder base of dormant, publicly trading companies in America before cold calling investors using "high pressure and misleading sales techniques".