Two face jail over 'simple' pounds 13m fraud

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A solicitor and a former nuts and bolts salesman used an improbable tale of secret CIA slush funds and international intrigue to dupe some of Europe's largest companies, including the Belling cooker company, out of pounds 13m. Today they face up to 14 years in jail.

Charles Deacon, a former under-sheriff for Stafford, and his partner in crime James Fuller spent years fooling money-hungry people and businesses with amazing tales of international intrigue, the CIA and massive secret funds.

To back up their tales, letters were forged from the then American President George Bush, the American Secret Service and top banks. Helped by John Savage, an American who has since died and who claimed to be a senior CIA agent, their victims fell for the stories.

Apart from Belling, which was fooled into raiding its pension fund, victims also included Russia's largest co-operative and Finland's biggest food processing company.

Deacon, 52, who practised in Newcastle under Lyme in Staffordshire, and Fuller, 56, now face up to 14 years in jail. They will be sentenced at Middlesex Crown Court in central London today.

Deacon, a bankrupt,, was convicted of six charges of conspiracy to defraud and two of obtaining property by deception. Fuller, from Kidsgrove in Staffordshire, was found guilty on the six conspiracy charges and a deception charge. The jury took just four hours to consider three-and- a-half months of evidence and return its verdicts.

Opening the prosecution case last October John Goldring QC had told the court: "You may think it would be a difficult task to steal this amount. It is simpler than you think. All you need is a little nerve and a total disregard for the truth."

Deacon had put himself forward as the honest advocate. For added effect, he frequently flashed his practice certificate and indemnity insurance cover to possible victims. In his office he had an impressive photograph of President Bush - with whom he claimed to be on first name terms - framed with the White House incumbent's inauguration programme.

Police believe Deacon and Fuller, who claimed to one gullible victim that he was the inventor of the world's first heart-lung machine, were part of a 12-strong gang - four in the US and the rest in Britain.

The court heard that Belling was among Deacon's and Fuller's first victims. In 1991, the company, based in Enfield, north London, was struggling to survive. When the firm was offered a lifeline loan of pounds 33.5m, its directors could not resist.

Shown a forged letter from Lord Tugendhat, deputy chairman of National Westminster Bank, about a pounds 750m "facility", company officials agreed to the terms - one year's upfront interest to secure the much needed rescue package. They handed over more than pounds 2m from their company pension fund. They never saw the money again. When they asked about the loan they were fobbed off with excuses .

The company folded in 1992, but according to some reports the swindle may have long-lasting effects on its 850 deferred pensioners - those who have not yet retired. According to one source, they could lose up to half their pension entitlement. The Law Society's solicitors' compensation scheme has already paid out pounds 600,000 to victims, much of it in connection with Belling. Another pounds 2m in claims is pending.

Mr Goldring told the judge that it had been impossible to discover what had happened to pounds 2.4m of the pounds 9m that had not yet been recovered. However, detectives had found that pounds 2m of the as yet untraced money had been laundered through about 40 different companies.