An unregistered financial adviser who fleeced more than ?2m from his clients to fund his internet gambling addiction was jailed for nine years yesterday.
Philip Smith conned at least 51 victims out of the money, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable. He even stole ?42,000 from his brother Christopher who had previously lent him money to pay off mortgage arrears. As his debts spiralled out of control, Smith simply did not care who he stole from, detectives claimed.
In total, Smith took ?1.75m from clients and laundered a further ?600,000 to fund his online gambling habit - with accounts at firms Betfair, Stanley James, Blue Square and Spread Ex.
Judge Peter Larkin, sitting at Manchester's Minshull Street crown court, said it was dishonesty on a "truly breathtaking scale". The judge told the 48-year-old Smith: "I intend to be blunt. You are a callous, manipulative and thoroughly dishonest man. As a financial adviser, your clients trusted you to handle their financial affairs with integrity and honesty. You breached that trust placed in you in a cold and calculated way."
He said many ordinary, decent hard-working people had lost substantial amounts of money as a result of Smith's dishonesty.
At one point, Smith had 67 credit cards registered with a single online betting company and it is thought that he squandered ?2m by gambling on horses, golf and other sports.
He betrayed clients he had been friends with for 20 years, whom he had shared meals with and popped round to their homes for cups of tea. Some of them had stayed at his ?170,000 villa in the Costa del Sol, or his holiday chalet in Porthmadog, north Wales.
The largest single theft from his clients was ?185,000 from a woman in her 60s.
Smith also convinced his clients to hand over their credit card details, which he then used to set up online betting accounts. He raised credit limits without their knowledge and diverted many of their statements to keep them in the dark.
When the executor of an 84-year-old man's estate began asking questions about a missing ?31,000, Smith produced forged paperwork and receipts suggesting that the dead man had spent the money on foreign trips and double glazing.
Smith stashed much of the cash in offshore bank accounts and enjoyed an opulent lifestyle on the proceeds of his crime, living in a luxurious ?550,000 home in the wealthy Cheshire commuter district of Bowdon and driving a BMW 7 series car.
Smith bowed his head as he was led away from the dock past many of his victims sitting in the public gallery.
At an earlier hearing, the fraudster had pleaded guilty to 49 counts of theft, money laundering, false accounting and forgery.
Smith had worked as a financial adviser in a branch of Lloyd's TSB bank in Stockport, Greater Manchester, during the 1980s. He set himself up as a registered independent financial adviser in 1990, building up a network of 270 clients and investing ?6m on their behalf.
Police believe his obsession with gambling, coupled with the mounting failure of his investments saw him succumb to the temptation of handling so much money.
His crimes went undetected for a decade because he allowed his registration as an independent financial adviser to lapse in 1997, leaving him unregulated. His clients were unaware of this and he had kept no accounts since his registration expired, the court heard.
On one occasion, he impersonated a dead person on the telephone to arrange for financial products to be surrendered. In doing this, he plundered money from an elderly woman who had recently lost her husband.
But by February 2005, a building society fraud investigator became suspicious about a joint account he had set up with an 87-year-old retired schoolteacher.
The investigator wrote several letters to the woman, but she did not receive them as Smith had diverted the post to his home. Social services were informed and it was discovered that he had plundered ?111,000 from her.
Detectives went to speak to her and while they were there, Smith arrived and was arrested. During the complex police inquiry, he was questioned 30 times.
One of his victims, Dilys Booth, sought his services because he had dealt with her aunt's financial affairs. On her aunt's death, she asked him to invest her inheritance , but was conned out of ?40,100.
Ms Booth, a 65-year-old from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said: "I am not stupid, but he was such a good liar. Whenever I visited his house, he had the financial pages up on Teletext and I often heard him on the phone buying and selling shares."
Smith also stole ?7,000 from her daughter Jeanette, who was ill and living on incapacity benefits. Another of his victims was a 36-year-old man with severe learning difficulties.
Only ?500,000 went back on his victims' cards; Smith kept another ?500,000 and ?1m has been lost forever.
The prosecutor, David Friesner, said there were no hidden assets in this case. "It appears all the money essentially seems to have been gambled away," he said. "Some of it was returned to victims, but a lot of it was gambled away."
Speaking outside the court, Detective Constable John Ashington, of Greater Manchester police, said Smith was a man driven by greed, selfishness and ultimately desperation. "He has left not only financial chaos and devastation in his wake, but also dozens of decent and hardworking people feeling shocked, shattered, betrayed and angry," he said. "Some have started to suffer health problems after finding out what he has done."
Mr Ashington said the downward spiral of financial chaos in which Smith became trapped was so severed that in the end it appears "he simply didn't care who he stole money from ... He took ?50,000 from a woman who was orphaned as a child and had been left the money by an auntie who had brought her up. He stole thousands of pounds from a member of his own family - and this after they had been good enough to lend him thousands of pounds to clear mortgage arrears."