Two fraudsters who scammed 245 people out of £13.7m of pension savings have been jailed.
Alan Barratt, 62, and Susan Dalton, 66, persuaded people to transfer money into 11 pension schemes that they controlled between 2012 and 2014.
The pair were charged with fraud after a prosecution was brought by The Pensions Regulator (TPR).
Barratt, 62, of Althorne, Essex, had denied the charge, while Dalton, 66, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, had pleaded guilty.
On Friday, Barratt was jailed for five years and seven months.
Dalton was put behind bars for four years and eight months.
Passing sentence, Judge Gregory Perrins said the pair caused “such misery to so many people”, with victims suffering mental health problems and some even attempting suicide.
“Each account that I have read is a story of a life ruined by your actions and you should both be ashamed,” he said.
The average amount each person lost was £55,000, but some lost many times more.
Southwark Crown Court was told Dalton and Barratt, who were based in Spain, enticed savers with the promise of unrealistic returns, cash bonuses, and even John Lewis vouchers before getting them to transfer their pensions from legitimate schemes to fraudulent ones.
The scam’s “mastermind” David Austin took his own life in 2019 after being invited for a police interview under caution, the court was told.
A judge was told how the cash bonuses, which victims were led to believe were part of a commission payment from the new schemes, were actually taken from their savings.
The pair were said to have passed the lion’s share of the money to Austin, who used it for his own personal benefit, to fund his businesses, pay others involved in the operation and enrich himself and family members.
During the scam, Dalton was a trustee for four fraudulent occupational pension schemes and duped 103 victims out of a total of just over £5.9 million, taking around £126,000 for herself, the court heard.
Meanwhile, Barratt was a trustee for six schemes and sucked in 139 victims and over £7.7 million of their savings, personally profiting around £343,000, the judge was told.
A civil trial brought by The Pensions Regulator against Austin, Barratt, Dalton and others, took place at the High Court in 2018, after which the trio were ordered to repay the millions of ill-gotten gains.
However, the funds, much of which were transferred to offshore accounts, have never been recovered, the court heard.
The judge heard a Kent firefighter, Glenn Perkins, who transferred £146,000 to the scammers in 2013, felt “worthless and useless” and now struggles with mental health problems as a result of falling victim to the scam.
Another man, referred to only as Mr Holloway in court, handed over £300,000 and has been left “devastated”.
The judge was told Dalton and Barratt “deceived” banks in Britain into believing they were in the UK in order to open accounts.
A solicitor was also instructed to send disgruntled victims comfort letters and threaten legal action, the court was told.
The scam included the creation of shell companies set up to pose as named employers for the fraudulent occupational pension schemes, while Barratt and Dalton were named as directors, the judge heard.