Two men who masqueraded as advisers to defraud pension savers of £20m have been jailed.
Rikki Nicholls, 57, and Mark Kelly, 51, persuaded hundreds of pension savers to transfer their pensions into SIPPs and then used the money for their own financial gain.
Mr Nicholls and Mr Kelly extracted in excess of £1m each in unauthorised commission payments, as well as directing the transfers into unsuitable high risk offshore investments which provided high commission payments.
Both men were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and transferring criminal property after a five-month trial at Southwark Crown Court came to a close on Friday.
Mr Nicholls of Bromsgrove and Mr Kelly of Cheshire were both sentenced to six years in prison.
The pair set up the scheme under PCD Wealth & Pension Management in 2007.
PCD was not regulated to conduct pension business in the UK and had no legal status.
The Metropolitan Police’s economic crime team began investigating the pair after a tip off from the financial regulators in 2011.
Mr Nicholls, a former employee of Equitable Life, obtained the details of existing customers who the pair then cold called and convinced to transfer their pensions into a SIPP controlled by their scheme.
The pair then directed the transfers to investment funds which were lucrative due to high commission payments.
A number of the investments have subsequently collapsed, resulting in some pension holders losing substantial amounts of their savings.
They predominantly used unqualified and unauthorised people to meet with the victims and complete the necessary paperwork.
Sections were left blank for Mr Kelly and Mr Nicholls to add in fees which had not been agreed. The pair extracted around 10% of the gross sum invested in unauthorised commission payments.
They also changed the correspondence address of the customers to a PO Box which they controlled, allowing them to have full control of the flow of information to the client.
Between August 2008 and May 2010, they placed over 250 customers’ pensions into SIPPs which were administer by Hornbuckle Mitchell. Victims lost between £10,000 and £200,000.
The pair were both arrested for fraud in 2014. The Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the case in 2016 but the case was delayed due to the volume of material to be reviewed and outstanding international enquiries.
They were charged with conspiracy to defraud and money launder in July 2020, with the case going to trial at Southwark Crown Court on 8 November 2021.
Denis Mountford, from Birmingham, who was defrauded by the men, said: “When I first discovered that my pension fund was rapidly diminishing and inaccessible, I was very cross with myself for trusting poor financial advisers who had taken a high percentage commission and also I was disgusted with them.
“I don’t know how one can tell if a financial adviser is totally trustworthy, except by recommendations from people you can trust and I hope that this case will be a warning to others.”
Jane Mitchell, specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “The harm caused by these fraudsters is immense, involving raids on the victims’ pension pots which wrecked their future livelihood and post-retirement plans. Many victims were left with no pensions and will have to work well beyond their retirement date to provide for themselves and their families.
“Mark Kelly and Rikki Nicholls cynically misled pension-holders, telling them they would have safe control over their pension funds but actually transferred the funds into high risk investments, without the pension holders consent or knowledge. The fraudsters did so for their own personal gain, knowing the high-risk investments generated high commissions for them but had no concern for their victims who were losing money they’d worked all their lives for.”