An internet dating fraudster tricked women into believing he was related to Adam Johnson as he conned them out of £140,000.
Internet dating fraudster Raymond McDonald, who fleeced five women out of more than £140,000, has been jailed for more than seven years.
McDonald used the Plenty of Fish website to target vulnerable women who had been recently separated or bereaved, Teesside Crown Court heard.
After gaining their trust, he persuaded his victims to hand over cash for property development schemes, household goods, holidays, car hire and other items.
One of his victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: "I have been left with no past and no future."
McDonald told more lies to explain his absences, including claiming he was the uncle of disgraced former Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson.
"Johnson was on trial at the time," said Paul Newcombe, prosecuting. "McDonald told one of his victims he was being hounded by the press which was why his mobile phone number changed several times or wasn't answered.
"He also gave Johnson as the reason why one of the victims could not meet his family, because he said they were wary of meeting anyone while Johnson's trial continued.
"With several of his victims he represented himself as a wealthy property developer who could help them renovate their property, or buy and sell property to their advantage."
McDonald told one victim if she sold her flat to him he would use a government grant scheme to renovate it.
They could then sell the flat at a profit and buy somewhere together.
Mr Newcombe said McDonald did transfer some of the sale proceeds to the victim, but persuaded her to transfer that money back to him for another property scheme.
McDonald persuaded his other victims to give him a series of smaller sums to pay for flights to his fictitious villa in Cyprus, domestic goods which were never delivered, his mother's funeral, presents for his son, and legal fees for bogus property transactions.
Three of the victims told the court they had been left devastated, ashamed and embarrassed by McDonald.
"I have literally been sick," said one victim. "I will never trust any man again.
"He told me a child of his had been the victim of sexual abuse.
"It was all lies just to get my sympathy.
"How anyone could use their own children to con someone is beyond me."
The court heard McDonald refused to leave his prison cell to come to court to hear his sentence.
"He should be here to face us," said one victim. "Our lives have been ruined, yet he can hide in his cell."
McDonald, 43, of Youll Close, Thornley, admitted five charges of fraud.
The court heard he has more than 40 previous convictions for similar offences, and has previously been jailed for four, three, and two years for 'almost identical' offences.
Tamara Pawson, defending, said she had no instructions to mitigate for McDonald.
"He has pleaded guilty," added Ms Pawson. "Mr McDonald earned a good wage while in the Army, but struggled to cope since being discharged.
"He does still have the support of his mother, and is currently in a relationship which he describes as a stable one."
Judge Stephen Ashurst jailed McDonald for seven-and-a-half years.
The judge said: "Mr McDonald is a gutless man, without shame, as his refusal to appear before me demonstrates.
"He is a serial fraudster who lives in a different world to the rest of us when it comes to honesty and the impact our actions have on others.
"These offences were predatory and premeditated against women who were vulnerable due to recent divorce or loss of their partner.
"Each suffered tremendously, and I am satisfied Mr McDonald's behaviour has genuinely ruined lives."
The judge banned publication of the victims' names in order that victims of similar offending would not be deterred from coming forward.
McDonald was made the subject of an indefinite restraining order banning him from contacting any of his five victims.