Financial adviser faces jail for £640,000 theft

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The Independent Online

A trusted financial adviser who conned almost £640,000 out of friends through a Ponzi scheme faces a jail sentence after he was convicted of theft.

John Sheldon Williams, 71, left dozens of people out of pocket after the collapse of his ruse, which relied on recycling cash by paying previous investors with new investors' money.

Williams, of St Annes, Lancashire, conned clients of his firm, Acorn Marketing Services, into handing over money which he promised to pay back with good interest between 1993 and 2008.

He told his victims the money was being used in property investment or providing loans.

The defendant took thousands of pounds of redundancy money from some and in 2006 took £120,000 equity from the sale of a family's home.

When they asked for it back six months later he only paid them £20,000 having spent the rest on premium bonds and settling other debts.

In 2008 he had repaid only £50,000 to the family.

A jury at Preston Crown Court convicted Williams of 35 counts of theft totalling £639,685. Prosecutor Peter Horgan said the investors thought of him as a family friend who they had known for many years.

"Williams was not living the high life" but was living "above his limited means", Mr Horgan added.

Williams had remortgaged his home in 2003 for £102,000.

Two years later he took out a second mortgage for £15,000 and sold the property in 2008 netting £53,000, which he used to pay off outstanding debts.

That year he was scheduled to pay out a number of schemes - "but there was nowhere else for the defendant to turn", said Mr Horgan.

Close to bankruptcy he wrote to his clients saying he was retiring because of ill health.

Weeks later he wrote again to his clients saying he had been defrauded by three business partners who had taken the money and run.

In a police interview, Williams told detectives he met business partners John and Joseph Thomas at a seminar in 2003.

He said he only ever met the pair and solicitor David Scott at his house or in hotels.

He said he only ever gave them cash and that he had recently given the three all the receipts and documents he had accrued.

Williams said he had no addresses or phone numbers for them and only ever spoke to them on a mobile phone they had given him.

In it, they had programmed their phone number so the defendant did not even know that.

Before his arrest the mobile broke so he returned it to them, Mr Horgan said.

Also, the barrister told the six men and six women of the jury that Williams had no specific addresses for properties he had invested his alleged victims' money in.

Judge Simon Newell told Williams that he would face a prison term when he is due to be sentenced on March 22.