In the FCA’s second largest ever criminal prosecution, the trial judge handed down sentences totalling 17.5 years for a scam that promised investors returns of between 125% and 228% for a planned property development in Madeira. Over 170 members of the public invested more than £2.8m in the scam.
In some cases investors, which included the elderly, lost their entire life savings.
Judge Hehir said the victims’ stories “were at times positively heart-breaking”. He said it was particularly repellent that the elderly had been targeted.
“Those who commit these offences cannot expect anything but firm punishment,” he said.
Operation Tidworth fraudsters
The mastermind of the fraud, Michael Nascimento, 41, will be sentenced on 14 September. The Financial Conduct Authority described him as the controlling mind, instigator and the main beneficiary of the fraud, which it has dubbed Operation Tidworth.
Charanjit Sandhu, 30, received the longest sentence at Tuesday’s sentencing landing 5.5 years in prison. Hehir said Sandhu was “dazzled by the rewards of crime” and had “lost his moral compass”. He referenced two victims in particular, who Sandhu had pestered mercilessly, stating his conduct had been cruel, callous and chilling.
Hugh Edwards, 36, and Stuart Rea, 50, were both sentenced to 3 years and 9 months.
Nascimento’s personal assistant Jeannine Lewis, 50, was sentenced to 2.5 years for helping him launder the proceeds of the fraud through various bank accounts including her own. She hid and destroyed documents and computers to prevent them falling into the hands of FCA investigators. Hehir described her as a “thoroughly dishonest woman”.
The youngest of the convicted fraudsters was Ryan Parker, 27, whose 2 years’ sentence is to be suspended for 18 months due to his age, personal mitigation and a lower level of involvement. Hehir said Parker had “been exploited in a significant way by Michael Nascimento”. He was also ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.
Major FCA fraud investigation
Operation Tidworth was one of the FCA’s most complex fraud investigations and its first prosecution of an offence of perverting the course of justice.
The case involved seizure of over 100 computers and digital devices and 3,682 exhibits. There were four separate search operations and one unannounced visit.
FCA executive director of enforcement and market oversight Mark Steward said: “These fraudsters callously targeted investors who were often elderly and vulnerable, lying to them to get them to part with significant sums of money. Despite efforts to conceal and destroy evidence, the FCA, in one of its largest ever investigations, was able to ensure that these criminals faced justice and ended up behind bars.”