A notorious confidence trickster is back behind bars after being found guilty of a £3.5 million property swindle in which he tried to buy luxury homes without having a penny to his name.
Richard Jerome was branded a confidence trickster and a menace by a judge after a jury at Exeter Crown Court finally put an end to his career of deceit.
Richard Jerome posed as a suave international financier working with Unesco even though he had only just been released from jail for an identical series of frauds in which he targeted rich professional single women.
He and his teacher wife Hazel went round Devon, Cornwall and the East Midlands pretending to be super rich ex-pats who had just come back from tax exile in the Caribbean and were searching for the perfect retirement home.
They made cash offers totalling more than £3.5 million pounds for houses in Sidmouth, East Looe, and Daventry including the clifftop former home of writer R F Delderfield.
The couple’s aim was to repeat a swindle in which they persuaded the owners to let them move in while the money to close the deal was transferred from abroad. They would then become middle class squatters who refused to budge or pay rent.
In the end they failed because the owners and their estate agents became suspicious and realised they had both done it before
Jerome used a string of aliases to go on upper-crust dating websites to target professional women, telling them he was a multi millionaire with business interests around the globe and an annual income of £1 million.
In reality he was a former minicab driver from Milton Keynes who had less than £200 to his name and only just been released from jail.
He served just a quarter of a 15 month sentence and within days of his release he created a false identity and started an internet seduction of a woman accountant who he fleeced for $100,000.
He sent e-mails claiming to be on business trips or holidays in the West Indies, Canada, St Petersburg, Turkmenistan, Minsk and Switzerland while in fact he was living in Britain and police still had his passport.
He told his victims he was an international banker who acted as consultant to the relief charity Unesco and swindled the accountant by telling her his bonds would earn her $5 million.
Jerome, aged 65, and ex wife Hazel, aged 62, of Watling Street, Towcester, are both accused making false representations that they had the funds to purchase Valhalla, in West Looe Hill, Looe, and Gazebo, in Peak Hill Road, Sidmouth, Ambleside House and Badby Lodge Farm, both near Daventry, Northamptonshire, between 2009 and 2011.
Jerome also face three charges of obtaining more than £1,000 worth of surveys on the properties by deception and the $100,000 fraud against London based accountant Lalita Lalvani in 2011.
They were found guilty of all charges and Jerome was remanded in custody pending sentence by Judge Erik Salomonsen. His wife was bailed but warned she faces jail.
The judge said:”He knows he is facing a long prison sentence. Last time he was jailed for 15 months but the time he actually spent in custody was remarkably short. That is not a matter for a Judge. We simply impose the sentences which are administered by the Home Office and the prison service.”
He told Jerome:”You know the score. You are a confidence trickster. You are a menace. You were a menace when you were convicted before and you continue to be a menace.
“You committed further offences while on bail awaiting your previous trial in Huntingdon and you made contact with Miss Lalvani within 13 days of your premature release.
“You made contact with her fraudulently on the internet and she lost some $100,000 some way down the track. It is my public duty to remand you in custody until you come back for sentence.
“I want to make one thing clear. You could not have been more professionally represented and those who you instructed have left no stone unturned.”
During a three week trial the couple’s three year long trail of lies was unravelled as a string of house sellers and property professionals told how they unmasked Jerome.
He used a series of false names, calling himself Auson, Ausson, Jerane, Jeraine and Jerone. He even invented a bogus international finance company called the Ausonia Holdings Corporation.
He offered £750,000 for The Gazebo, a stunning and unique clifftop home in Peak Hill, Sidmouth, which had been built for R F Delderfield, the author of To Serve them All Our Days.
Jerome and his wife moved on to Cornwall where they made a £310,000 offer for Valhalla in East Looe. They returned to their old stamping ground in the Midlands where they offered £560,000 for Ambleside in Hellidon, near Daventry and just under £2 million for Badby Lodge Farm.
He never came up with any money to back up the offers and spun a bizarre web of deceit in which he explained the delays by saying he was waiting for money to be transferred from his business interests abroad.
All his property deals fell through when estate agents learned his true identity and found newspaper cuttings dating back to his previous conviction in Huntingdon Crown Court in 2009.
On that occasion Jerome was jailed for 15 months and his wife was given a ten month suspended term after they admitted a series of frauds which led to them being dubbed ‘the middle class squatters’.
Their victims on that occasion were professional women including a solicitor and a barrister who fell for Jerome’s lies and allowed him and his wife to move into their homes.
Among those who lost money during his latest scams were Exeter based surveyor Geoffrey Smith, who was never paid his £500 fee and geologist Simon Ruddlestone said is still owed £250.
Jerome claimed he was acting on behalf of a mysterious Dutch financier called Ferdinand Ossendorp and believed he would finance the offers he made for the houses.
He hoped to call Ossendorp, who is supposedly based in the Dominican Republic, but he replied he was too ill to travel or even to appear via Skype.
Jerome also claimed to be a former police officer but there is no evidence of this.
His wife said she could not remember any lies being told when she joined her husband on the visits to the four homes.