A multi-millionaire fraudster is facing up to 20 years in a US jail after admitting ripping off thousands of investors in Britain's biggest "boiler room" scam.
Richard Pope, 53, funded a lifestyle of fast cars, yachts and private jets as his international gang pressurised pensioners over the phone into buying non-existent shares.
His crime empire made over £100 million as more than 2,300 victims were bullied into handing over life savings, detectives believe. One victim alone lost more than £800,000.
As Pope pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy at the Middle District of Florida District Court, British detectives condemned him for leaving a trail of victims destitute.
Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police's Economic Crime Directorate, led the investigation in partnership with US authorities.
"He and the guys who did this are on a par with some of the most ruthless villains out there," he told the Press Association.
He told how most of the victims were retired pensioners from the UK who trusted Pope with their life savings.
"They did not deserve what they have got, they thought they were going to be able to look after their families for years to come with this.
"But instead many of them have ended up divorced, homeless or have had to come out of retirement and get jobs.
"For some of these people there will be no closure. This has scared them for life. The psychological effects cannot be underestimated.
"It is the worst case I have dealt with."
Boiler room scams involve fraudsters using high pressure sales tactics to con investors into buying non-tradable, overpriced or even non-existent shares. They are thought to cost the UK around £200 million a year.
Pope spent two years on the run before his arrest, police said.
The bachelor, who was extradited to the US from Spain, helped sell fake shares and options to unsuspecting investors between July 2004 and March 2008.
His crime gang stole the identity, history and shareholder base of dormant, publicly trading companies in America before cold calling investors using "high pressure and misleading sales techniques".
Among four businesses forming part of the scam was Mobilestream, a worthless entity sold as as an up and coming company.
Websites and glossy brochures were used to give further credibility to the gang's bogus investment opportunities that would ultimately account for at least 2,300 victims.
"Many of them were left penniless, some even destitute," an investigating officer said.
"The stolen money was funnelled off into US bank accounts, where it was reinvested by financiers and enjoyed by the gang leaders."
While the fraud outlined in the indictment totalled £80 million, detectives believed the actual total was well in excess of £100 million.
After being alerted to the scam in 2006, City of London Police, US Homeland Security Investigation, Tampa, and the US Secret Service worked together to finally arrest Pope at an undisclosed location in Spain.
Det Supt Wishart added: "International collaboration is the only way you can stop international crimes, and this case is a great example of law enforcement from different countries coming together to bring a dangerous and destructive criminal like Pope to justice."
Pope was charged in March 2009 by US authorities along with six other defendants, including two other Britons - Paul Gunter and Simon Odoni. The other defendants are awaiting trial, US authorities said.Reuse content