A BELFAST financier could be jailed for 20 years in the US after pleading guilty to a $164million (£123million) fraud.
Roger 'Rocket' Knox, an ex-Army officer and former Campbell College pupil, is to be sentenced for the 'pump and dump' shares scam in Boston on September 30.
The multi-millionaire was released from a US prison in April, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been allowed to remain under house arrest.
Knox confessed to working with others in a massive global securities fraud that netted around $164million.
The 49-year-old had been living the high life in the Alps before being busted in an FBI sting.
The ex-paratrooper was reportedly trapped when an accomplice co-operated with federal agents to record him explaining the scam, which has been compared to the fraud overseen by Jordan Belfort that appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Massachusetts attorney general's office said: "Knox, with others, operated a purported asset management firm based in Switzerland called Silverton and later renamed Wintercap.
"Through this business, Knox helped facilitate pump and dump and other market manipulation schemes by selling massive quantities of microcap securities on behalf of control groups who secretly owned the stock through nominee shareholders and who simultaneously orchestrated promotional campaigns and other efforts to artificially inflate the price and the trading volume of those shares.
"Knox then funnelled the proceeds of the securities fraud, totalling an estimated $164million over the last three years, to co-conspirators in the US and elsewhere through a complex money transfer system that disguised the source and nature of the funds."
While in jail Knox, who turns 50 in November, denied being the ringleader of the scam. He was recorded telling a friend during a phone conversation: "I'm not the racing driver. I'm the guy who fills the tank and cleans the windshield. I'm the one who grinds the skates in the back room of the ice rink, not the one who shoots the goals."
A public prosecutor presented a transcript to court soon after and said of Knox: "We're not dealing with a henchman in the conspiracy. He is the conspiracy."
The financier was living in the French Alps while running his scam from an office across the border in Switzerland before being arrested in 2018 by the FBI, which had tracked him for years.
Knox was born and raised in Northern Ireland. After leaving Belfast's Campbell College in 1989, he studied economics at the University of Stirling before attending Sandhurst.
He joined the Army, serving in the Parachute Regiment before moving into financial management.
While in the military he worked as a ski instructor in Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc in the French Alps.
He later settled in the area and had an office across the border in the Swiss village of Finhaut, where he worked a couple of hours each day, coinciding with Wall Street's opening hours.
According to Swiss media reports, Knox lived a flash lifestyle but was secretive about his business dealings.
He once drove sports cars including a Lotus, but since his arrest his black Mercedes has been gathering dust at one of a number of properties he owns.
A person who worked in a cafe near Knox's office said the Northern Irishman kept the nature of his business very close to his chest.
"He was like an alien. If someone asked him what he did for a living, he politely but firmly ended the conversation, saying, 'I don't talk business'," they explained.
The financier made the village of Finhaut with a population of less than 400 the headquarters for his in international scam for a period of three years.
Prosecutors estimate that he has $12.3million deposited in banks and $36million in securities balances, alongside a number of properties in the Alps and Coletta di Castleblanco in Italy.
The money is reportedly hidden in accounts in Switzerland, Mauritius and Dubai.
'Pump and dump' scams revolve around practically worthless stocks. A fraudster buys up all the shares in a company and leaves them untouched for a while before paying a promoter to fraudulently talk up the company, which increases the trading volume and thus the price of the shares.
The sole shareholder ultimately sells the securities to gullible private investors in one fell swoop.
Knox describes himself on social media as "an articulate and dynamic manager at ease working under pressure to achieve goals in an ever-changing environment".
The US attorney general's office said: "The charge of securities fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $5million."
According to reports, Knox may have cut a deal through his guilty plea in Boston that could lead to a sentence of between 12 and 15 years.