A WOKING woman has been jailed for her part in a £10million investment scam.
Linda Hirst, 62, will serve two and a half years after being found guilty of money laundering.
Her estranged husband John Hirst, 61, of Brighouse, West Yorkshire, was sentenced to nine years as the brains behind the ‘Ponzi’ scheme.
The couple’s accountant Richard Pollett, 70, of Poole, Dorset, was jailed for six and a half years. He was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.
All three appeared at Bradford Crown Court today (August 31) for sentencing.
The fraud was named after gangster Carlos Ponzi who set up similar schemes in America in the 1920s.
Mr Hirst’s victims were promised high rates of interest and told their money was guaranteed.
More than 120 people invested thousands of pounds of their life savings in the bogus scheme.
But cash was going to offshore accounts controlled by Mr Hirst, with only tiny amounts going back to the investors each month.
Of the £10m handed over between 2001 and 2009 only about £4.6m was paid back to investors.
In 2009 the Serious Fraud Squad began an investigation after a series of delayed payments to investors.
Mrs Hirst was found guilty of three counts of money laundering totalling £750,000 and one count of evading a liability by deception.
Mr Hirst pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering at the beginning of the original trial.
He and Pollett set up the scheme – based in Majorca – in 2001 and all three defendents lived a lavish lifestyle on the proceeds of the con.
Judge Jonathan Durham-Hall QC said those targetedwere mainly ordinary, hard-working people who put their pensions and savings into the scheme.
Mr Hirst also tried to involve other members of his family.
His solicitor son, Daniel Hirst, and Linda Hirst’s daughter, Zoe Waite, were cleared of money laundering charges at a trial earlier this year.
Judge Durham-Hall told Hirst and Pollett: “You are through and through common criminals. What you did, and what makes this case of the utmost gravity, was brutal, callous and cruel. You are corrupt.
“This was an appalling and shocking course of conduct in which so many were targeted and so many have, in effect, had the remainder of their lives shattered and ruined.”
Sentencing Mrs Hirst, the judge said: “You enjoyed the most profligate of high standards of living, jet-setting here and there, cruises here and there, and Mr Hirst showered you with money and jewels.”
Charles Dewey, one of the investors in the scheme, described the trio as evil.
Mr Dewey, from Somerset, said: “This man has taken £300,000 from us, we’re now left with nothing. We’ve got nothing to our name now, we’re living on benefits with two children. It’s a very difficult situation.”
“That man has ripped our lives apart. I think they’re evil people. I’m very relieved that, at long last, justice has been made to bear on him.”
Mr Hirst, a former insurance salesman, had previously been convicted for fraudulently taking redundancy money from former Yorkshire miners in the 1990s.