A husband and wife from Northamptonshire have been jailed for a £3.5 million property fraud where they lived in luxury homes despite having only £8.50 in the bank.
Richard Jerome, aged 65, and Hazel, aged 62, of Watling Street, Towcester, denied a total of eight charges of fraud or deception but were found guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court, where a judge branded them habitual confidence tricksters.
The couple posed as a wealthy international businessman and his home maker wife as they made offers on expensive properties which they had no intention of buying.
Richard Jerome claimed to be working with the charity Unesco and to have businesses in the Caribbean, the Caucuses, and Europe and homes in London, Barbados, the Cote D’Azur and the Dubrovnik Riviera.
He and his wife tried to befriend the buyers of expensive homes with the intention of repeating a swindle which had enabled them to live rent free in the lap of luxury in the past.
Their scheme was to make an offer, claim that their money from abroad was delayed, and ask to move in before completion. Phase two was to fob off the owners for months with excuses while they squatted rent free.
They had pulled off exactly the same swindle in the past and Jerome resumed his scheming within days of being released from a 15 months sentence.
Jerome operated under a string of false names as he tried to buy a £2 million farmhouse at Badby, near Daventry, and a £560,000 home called Ambleside at nearby Hellidon.
The couple also made offers on homes in Looe, Cornwall, and Sidmouth, Devon, worth a total of just over £1 million. The Devon house had been the retirement home of author R F Delderfield.
Jerome was also involved in a different fraud in which he claimed to be a financial adviser and conned a woman from Northamptonshire out of $100,000 in a bogus investment scheme.
He told her he had an annual income of £1 million and business interests all over the globe.
In reality, neither Jerome or his wife had any assets anywhere in the world. He was an ex-taxi driver who claimed to be a former policeman. She was a retired primary school teacher from Milton Keynes living on a modest pension.
They only had £8.70 in the bank between them.
Jerome was jailed for six years and his wife for two years and three months.
Judge Erik Salomonsen told Jerome:”You are a confidence trickster, you are a menace. You are a fraudster who is motivated by profit without working for it. You pretended to be someone you were not.”
During a three-week trial in the summer the jury at Exeter heard how they had both previously been convicted at Huntingdon Crown Court in 2009 for similar frauds.
The prosecution claimed they worked together as a team with him ‘taking the lead and doing the talking’ and his wife telling vendors about their ‘fantastical lifestyle’.
They pretended they were returning from tax exile and were looking for a home in Britain where they could retire and enjoy their wealth.
Their scheme was rumbled by either buyers or estate agents who became suspicious of their lies and excuses and started checking out their stories.
In some cases this proved very difficult because Jerome adopted a series of aliases, including Richard Ausson, and even invented a bogus international company called Aussonia.
Where Jerome used his own name he was trapped by his victims checking him out on the internet and finding newspaper cuttings about his previous life of deception.
He claimed that either he had not made his dishonest claims or that he did have huge assets abroad which were being kept from him by crooked financiers in Canada or Barbados.