A financial adviser was jailed for 5 years 11 months today (February 11) for a Ponzi scheme that cheated investors out of more than £1.6 million.
Stephen Grail, 58, abused the trust of four customers by channeling their money into his own bank account to cover his own failed investments.
St Albans crown court heard Grail, who had been based in Hemel Hempstead and lived in a Manor House near Buckingham, began offending in January 1997 until he was finally caught in September 2018.
One client lost 95 per cent of his wealth, one had to sell her home and another lost £300,000 she had saved for her pension.
Grail, who was living in Malaga and at an address in Douglas Road, Aylesbury appeared for sentence, having pleaded guilty to six charges of obtaining property by deception, five of abuse of position and one of theft.
Prosecutor James Marsland said: “Mr Grail blurred the lines by using his personal account. In his mind he was going to attempt to pay it all back.
“In reality it all boiled down to lying about the investments of clients and where the money was going.
“He was the director of APlus, offering financial services. It began legitimately but he became involved in a sustained fraudulent activity over a number of years. There were fictional investment and he paid notional returns to his clients.”
In a victim personal statement one woman said Grail was recommended by a family friend. She was suffering with an illness and thought she had built up a good pension which she was going to use to pay off her mortgage.
She said: “I was completely devastated. It felt like a complete betrayal. I counted him as a friend of 20 years.” She had to sell her home to pay off her mortgage.
Another woman lost £300,000 and lives only on state pension. She said: “I had known him for 30 years and saw him as a good friend who I she completely trusted. I had him over for dinner. He was using my money for his own gain and was continually lying to me.
One man said he lost 95 per cent of his health and his marriage had collapsed.
Defending, Kate O’Raghallaigh said the offending began as an attempt to cover up a failed investment. She said personal expenditure was relatively limited, although he had used the money to payfor school fees and a holiday.
She said he had hundreds of other clients over a very long time with no difficulties. His family home was now in the possession of the bank she said. Grail, who had been suicidal, had suffered a heart attack. She said he now works counselling people in crisis.
Jailing him, Judge Philip Grey said Grail’s victim had trusted and liked him and said: “You were engaged in grossly dishonest behaviour in breach of trust for 21 years.”
He said Grail was guilty of “brazen and sophisticated dishonesty” an “gross and sustained abuse of trust.”
Investigator Alan Mordey, from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit, said: “For nearly 20 years Grail operated a Ponzi scheme, taking money from his victims claiming that he was investing it in pensions and loans for them, whilst using their money to pay bogus ‘interest’ payments to other victims. The stolen money was used to fund his lifestyle and prop up his failing business. He provided his victims with fake documentation showing that their investments had risen, or to support his claim that loans had been made. What pension investments he did make he later raided funnelling the money into his own accounts”
A confiscation hearing will be set at a later date.