A LIFE of international luxury was enjoyed by a gang who conned pensioners out of their life savings.
More than 80 elderly victims were targeted by the Wearside mob who used strong-arm sales tactics to make more than £13million by selling fake shares.
The gang, including members of the same Sunderland family, then lived out an extravagant lifestyle, buying Spanish apartments and luxury sports cars, including a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a Ferrari, a Maserati and a BMW.
The cold-calling fraudsters would set up fake companies and sent out convincing prospectuses to persuade pensioners to buy shares which turned out to be worthless.
One victim, a retired doctor in his 80s, lost £1million and was convinced to re-mortgage his house after being caught up in the scam. Another woman lost £850,000.
Detectives believe the true figure could be much larger and include many more victims.
After a series of court hearings and trials, the masterminds behind the scam are behind bars.
Ringleader George Abrue, 29, of Washington, admitted conspiracy to defraud and money laundering and was jailed for five years.
His wife Sarah Robson, 25, now of Harwood Drive, Houghton, and mother-in-law Jocelyn Cowper, 53, of Esthwaite, Washington, have been found guilty of the same charges and are awaiting sentence.
Senior manager of one of the fake firms Scott Henderson, 31, of Morgan Street, Southwick, Sunderland, was jailed for four years after admitting conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
The fraud first appeared on the City of London Police’s radar in August 2009, when its National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) was contacted by a stream of people claiming to have lost money after being cold-called.
The NFIB used this intelligence to build a picture of how the scam was operating.
City of London Police launched an investigation and quickly uncovered how Abrue was recruiting former colleagues from the telesales industry to work for him.
The men were trained in Malaga and then moved to offices in Majorca, where they operated pressurising people into buying shares in non-existent companies such as Bio Fuel Solutions Corporation and New Power Technology.
Victims were sent ‘bogus’ share certificates, produced in a Sunderland back-street office run by Henderson, to provide evidence of their investments and to encourage them to make further payouts.
Abrue was identified as the head of the organised crime gang, using different aliases to move between Spain, Sweden and the UK.
Detectives also discovered how he began his criminal career inventing false companies before deciding the big money was to be made by selling the shares for himself.
In December 2009 the City of London Police led a national operation that saw 11 people arrested in Northumbria and three others in Manchester, Derbyshire and London. On the same day, Abrue was detained in Sweden and several months later extradited back to the UK to be charged.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Clark, from the City of London Police, said: “George Abrue was a bright and articulate man, but he was also an unscrupulous and callous coward. He showed no sentiment in his crime, and clearly thought nothing of the impact his fraud had on its victims.
“Some of those victims have been suicidal, and the psychological effect on them and their families has been tragic; all so Abrue and his friends could live the lifestyle of a Premier League footballer spending astronomical sums of money.”
•Also involved in the scam were:
Salesman Sam Hamed, 25, of Byland Court, Washington, was jailed for three years and nine months after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Salesman Dean Hamilton, 26, of Cleeve Court, Washington, was jailed for three years after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Salesman Mark Brannan, 28, of Arlington Avenue, Newcastle, was jailed for 18 months after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Salesman Anton Deach, 25, of Heaton Street, Prestwich, Manchester, was jailed for five years after being convicted by a jury of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Manager Babatunde Aluko, 29, of Clarence Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, was jailed for three years and nine months after admitting conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.