Couple jailed over £10m Ponzi scheme fraud

 

A husband and wife who used money from a fraudulent £10 million investment scheme to fund their extravagant lifestyle have been jailed.

John and Linda Hirst enjoyed luxury holidays and lavish wedding celebrations in Las Vegas and Majorca with the proceeds of the Ponzi scheme.

John Hirst was sentenced at Bradford Crown Court to nine years for his part in the fraud while his wife was told she would serve two-and-a-half years in jail for money laundering.

Richard Pollett, an accountant who was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, was jailed for six-and-a-half years.

Judge Jonathan Durham-Hall QC told John Hirst and Pollett: "You through and through common criminals. What you did, and what makes this case of the utmost gravity, was brutal, callous and cruel.

"You are corrupt."

Judge Durham-Hall said: "This was an appalling and shocking course of conduct in which so many were targeted and so many have, in effect, had the remainder of their lives shattered and ruined."

The judge said those targeted by the pair were mainly ordinary, hard-working people who put their pensions and savings into the scheme after being promised huge returns and a risk-free guarantee.

Many were elderly or divorced and all were decent and trusting, he said.

Judge Durham-Hall spoke of both men's greed and desire to live the high life in Majorca.

"It did involve money-laundering on a grand scale, high living, lavish lifestyle," he said.

"It was sickening to see the display of extravagance at your wedding to Linda, where many of the investors you were defrauding were being entertained on the most grand scale with the use of their own dishonestly-acquired money."

Sentencing Linda Hirst, the judge said: "You did, from June 2006 onwards, enjoy the most profligate of high standards of living, jet-setting here and there, cruises here and there, and, of course, Mr Hirst liberally showered you with money and jewels."

John Hirst, 61, from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, served a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in the early 1990s after being convicted of a similar investment fraud involving miners' redundancy payments.

After his release from jail, he later moved to Majorca and set up the Ponzi scheme in 2001.

He presented himself as a wealthy expert investor with a background in the financial services and promised investors he would invest their money in the US Dow Jones Index, with minimum returns of 18%.

Instead, he used the money for his own benefit, including paying for his wedding to Linda in Las Vegas in 2006 and a lavish wedding celebration in Majorca costing around £88,000.

The scheme began to fall apart in 2009 when the demands for the withdrawal of money exceeded the amount being invested.

Of the £10 million invested into the scheme, only around £4 million has been repaid.

A Serious Fraud Office investigation began in November 2009 after a complaint from one of the 120 investors.

Judge Durham-Hall said John Hirst also imperilled members of his own family by trying to involve them in the scheme.

His solicitor son, Daniel Hirst, and Linda Hirst's daughter, Zoe Waite, were cleared of money laundering charges at the trial earlier this year.

John Hirst pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering at the beginning of the trial.

Pollett, 70, from Poole, Dorset, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

The court heard that he invested and lost his brother's life-savings and those of his best friends and clients who trusted and respected him as a professional chartered accountant.

Judge Durham-Hall said: "You are a desperately greedy man, dazzled by John Hirst, envious of his lifestyle and wanting some for you at any cost."

Linda Hirst, 62, from Woking, Surrey, was found guilty of three counts of money laundering a total of around £750,000, and one count of evading a liability by deception.

She is no longer in a relationship with John Hirst.

Linda Hirst, wearing a pink zip-up cardigan over a black top, sat impassively next to Pollett throughout the sentencing proceedings, while John Hirst sat apart from his two co-defendants.

None of the three showed any emotion when they were jailed.

Speaking outside the court after the sentencing, Charles Dewey, one of the investors in the scheme, described the trio as evil and said he had been left with nothing.

"It's had a huge effect on us really, it's made me doubt people from a trust point of view," Mr Dewey, from Somerset, said.

"The destruction of trust is a very nasty lesson to learn aged 50, together with I'm now having to start life again like a student."

He said: "This man has taken £300,000 from us, we're now left with nothing. We've got nothing to our name now, we're living on benefits with two children. It's a very difficult situation."

He added: "That man has ripped our lives apart. I think they're evil people. I'm very relieved that, at long last, justice has been made to bear on him."

PA

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