'Costa del crime' gang convicted

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The Independent Online

A gang of "Costa del Crime" fraudsters have been convicted of preying on hundreds of British pensioners in a £20 million share con.

Mastermind George Abrue and his boiler room team of eight funded lavish lifestyles by persuading vulnerable victims to part with their lifelong savings in exchange for non-existent assets.

One of their victims was left considering suicide after losing £1.4 million, a source said.

Ray Turner, an 87-year-old Second World War RAF veteran, told how he was cheated out of more than £75,000 by the gang.

The pensioner, from Ware, in Hertfordshire, said: "I was sucked in first by their emails and then by their phone calls. They got almost everything. They were ruthless."

The case can be reported today after Abrue's wife and mother-in-law were found guilty of assisting the multi-million pound criminal operation.

Abrue was caught after a covert operation involving City of London detectives who sent him texts from his estranged wife's mobile phone.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Clark, who led the swoop, described the gang's conviction as one of his proudest moments.

He said: "George Abrue was a bright and articulate man, but he was also an unscrupulous and callous coward.

"Some of those victims have been suicidal, and the psychological effect on them and their families has been tragic - all so Abrue and his friends could live the lifestyle of a premiership footballer spending astronomical amounts."

Sarah Robson, 28, and Jocelyn Cowper, 57, were convicted at Newcastle Crown Court six weeks after Abrue, 30, was jailed for five years.

Six other members of Abrue's gang were jailed at Harrow Crown Court in May, with his main partners, Scott Henderson, 31, and Anton Deach, 25, receiving five-year and four-year jail terms respectively.

Abrue, an Nigerian immigrant based in Newcastle, used fraudulent brokers to aggressively push shares in what they claimed were emerging mineral and bio fuel companies about to float on the stock market.

UK phone numbers and company addresses were acquired to legitimise the operation, and professional websites and brochures were produced to convince people, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, to part with their savings.

The reality was victims were buying into fictitious companies. Their money was being laundered through Swedish and Italian bank accounts to fund a champagne lifestyle of Abrue and his associates.

Parties for up to 300 people were thrown in top Barcelona hotels and a Ferrari, Bentley and Maserati were all bought and garaged abroad.

The fraud first appeared on officers' radar in August 2009 when the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) were contacted by a stream of people claiming to have lost money after being cold-called.

The men were trained in Malaga and then moved to Majorca to pressurise people into buying shares in non-existent companies such as Bio Fuel Solutions Corporation and New Power Technology.

Babatunde Aluko and Sam Hamed were jailed for three years and nine months each, Dean Hamilton was sentenced to three years and Mark Brannan is serving 18 months, all for charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.