St Albans men jailed in US over ‘boiler room’ scam

L-R Odoni, Pope and Gunter

L-R Odoni, Pope and Gunter - Credit: Archant

TWO ST Albans men, who were part of an international organised crime gang that conned UK investors out of £80 million, have been jailed in a Florida court this week.

Richard Pope, 55, and Simon Odoni, 56, both hailed from St Albans and originally worked together in the insurance industry.

With a third man, Paul Gunter, 64, they were the backbone of the gang which tricked at least 2,300 people in the UK, mostly retired professionals, out of sums ranging from a few hundred pounds up to £1 million.

Many victims lost all their savings, had their retirement ruined and their family lives destroyed. One man from Yorkshire committed suicide after losing more than £200,000 to the so-called boiler room scam, which snares thousands of investors into buying expensive shares that turn out to be worthless and impossible to sell.

The sentencing of the three men for a total of 43 years in the US court on Tuesday, marked a major milestone in a seven-year transatlantic investigation by the City of London Police, working with US law enforcement agencies and supported by the Serious Fraud Office, Spanish National Police and Norfolk Police.

The origins of the fraud date back to 2004 when the three men and their co-conspirators acquired previously hijacked dormant, public-traded companies in the US which they utilised to sell UK investors worthless stock.

They facilitated the fraudulent scheme by coordinating a network of Spanish boiler rooms employing hundreds of people to ruthlessly target investors using high pressure and misleading sales techniques.

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The stolen funds were used to expand the criminal network and pay for extravagant lifestyles for the gang that included a £350,000 private jet, 26 properties in the US and three in the Dominican Republic as well as a number of high value cars and speed boats.

The enormity of the case was first discovered when the City of London Police linked a number of investigations in the UK to those being conducted by Federal Agencies in the US.

Thereafter detectives from the National Lead Force for fraud worked closely with agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Secret Service and the United States Attorney’s Office in Florida to bring the men to justice.

In March 2009 the Attorney’s Office charged seven defendants, including Pope, Odoni and Gunter, with offences including money laundering and mail and wire fraud.

Two years later Pope pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and in 2012 two US lawyers were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The trial of Gunter, originally from London, and Odoni took place in March this year with Pope testifying against his fellow gang members and three UK victims travelling to Florida to give evidence. Both men were found guilty this April.

This week Odoni was sentenced to 13 years and four months, Pope to four years and nine months, taking account of his cooperation in the case, and Gunter to 25 years.

Detective Inspector Kerrie Gower, who led the investigation for the City of London Police, said: “Pope, Gunter and Odoni are among the most arrogant, ruthless and destructive criminals the City of London Police has ever dealt with and deserve every day they will spend behind bars in the US.

“Unfortunately this sentencing will not repair the huge damage they caused to the lives of thousands of people who were simply looking for a safe place to invest their money, but hopefully it will bring a measure of comfort and a sense of closure to those caught up in what was fraud committed on a truly significant scale.

“That Pope, Gunter and Odoni have now been successfully prosecuted is thanks to transatlantic law enforcement cooperation, painstakingly piecing together this crime, ensuring that those involved would one day face justice.”

Mark Goswami committed suicide after losing more than £200,000, including £70,000 to the gang. His widow Andrea Goswami travelled to Florida to give evidence against the gang.

She said: “Before my husband died he was spending day and night in front of his computer trying to work out what had happened to his investments. He stopped eating and sleeping and became more and more distant to us.

“No prison sentence is long enough for these men after the damage they caused to the lives of my family and hundreds of others, especially as they continue to show no remorse for the dreams they destroyed and the fact that many of their victims have been left with nothing.”

She added: “Going into the court room was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and it made me feel physically sick to see Gunter and Odoni in person. I have a huge amount of gratitude to both the City of London Police and US law enforcement for catching these men and giving me some peace of mind.”