After two heartless men were jailed for a £22 million pension fraud, police are urging the public to be cautious about investment opportunities.
The two men devised a complex scheme to persuade hundreds of pension holders to transfer their pensions into Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPS), which they then used for personal gain.
“Both men put their own financial gain over the interests of over 250 victims, losing their money and leaving some in financial ruin, while earning lucrative sums themselves,” said Detective Superintendent John Roch, Head of the Met’s Economic Crime.
“I would advise anyone who receives a cold call about an investment to be cautious. Before making a significant financial decision, please seek independent professional advice.”
Both men were sentenced on Friday, 15 July at Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty following a five-month trial at the same court in April 2022. They were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud and criminal property transfer.
Rikki Nicholls, 57, of Linthurst Newtown, Blackwell, Bromsgrove, and Mark Kelly, 51, of Maplewood Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, were both sentenced to six years in prison.
Following a referral from the Financial Services Authority, now the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), of criminal misconduct from multiple sources, detectives from the Met’s Central Specialist Crime Command’s Economic Crime teams launched an investigation in 2011. Under Specialist Crime, the Economic Crime team investigates serious and complex financial crime, fraud, and money laundering.
Detectives tracked down and contacted over 250 victims from across the country, conducting investigations with multiple agencies and resulting in over 10,000 documents and exhibits.
The court heard how, in 2007, Mark Kelly and Rikki Nicholls established and ran a scheme called ‘PCD Wealth & Pension Management’ (PCD). The company’s goal was to transfer clients’ pensions to investment funds for growth.
Nicholls worked for the legitimate insurance company Equitable Life. He had obtained the contact information of existing customers, who were then cold called and persuaded pension holders to transfer their pensions into a SIPP managed by their scheme.
In fact, Kelly and Nicholls directed the transfers of their victims’ pension funds to investment funds that paid high commissions to themselves.
They mostly used unqualified and unlicensed individuals to meet with the victims and complete the necessary paperwork to transfer their money. Certain sections of the forms were left blank, allowing Kelly and Nicholls to later complete them – adding unagreed-upon fees derived from the values of the pensions, allowing them to earn higher commissions. They changed the correspondence address to a PO Box controlled by them, giving them complete control over the flow of information to the investor.
Between August 2008 and May 2010, they transferred customers’ pensions into SIPPs, which were managed by Hornbuckle Mitchell’s specialist SIPP advisors.
PCD was not licenced to conduct pension business in the United Kingdom. PCD was not an official entity; it lacked legal standing and was merely a trade name. They invested funds in unsuitable and high-risk investments that were not appropriate for pension funds.
The majority of victims lost between £10,000 and £200,000 of their pensions.
“When I first discovered that my pension fund was rapidly diminishing and inaccessible, I was very cross with myself for trusting poor financial advisors who had taken a high percentage commission, and I was disgusted with them,” said Denis Mountford, a Birmingham resident who was defrauded by the men.
“I’m not sure how to tell if a financial advisor is completely trustworthy, other than recommendations from people you can trust, and I hope that this case serves as a warning to others.”
“During this time, legal and investigating officers have been extremely helpful and considerate, giving me confidence in the legal proceedings.”
“Many of the victims are vulnerable by age and financial position, and as a result of these men’s actions, they have been left in severe financial difficulties,” Detective Superintendent John Roch said. Many people must continue to work in order to fund their retirement, or they must retire with a reduced pension or even without one. These men have caused them so much distress and anxiety.
“I’d like to thank the victims for their assistance with this investigation and those who testified in court.”
“The detectives who worked on this case each have specific areas of expertise, and it is because of their years of hard work and dedication that we have today’s result.” I’d like to thank my staff for their tenacity, expertise, and professionalism in reaching these conclusions.”
Kelly was arrested for fraud on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Nicholls voluntarily returned from his residence in Dubai and was interviewed under caution on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The team completed inquiries and statements on a national and international scale.
The Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the case in 2016, but a charging decision was delayed due to the volume of unused material to be reviewed and outstanding international inquiries.
Kelly and Nicholls were charged with conspiracy to defraud and money laundering on Monday, July 6, 2020. On Monday, August 17, 2020, they entered not guilty pleas at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The case has been assigned to Southwark Crown Court for trial on Monday, November 8, 2021.
More than 3,000 documents have been reviewed for disclosure, with over 2,000 more scheduled under the Criminal Investigations Act Code of Practice. There were 193 witness statements served.
Following convictions, a confiscation investigation will be launched, with the goal of recouping some of the victims’ losses.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud or that someone is attempting to access your pension, contact Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040. More information can be found at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/investmentfraud.