Fraudster Anthony Kemp jailed over £8m investment con

image source, Durham Police
image caption, Kemp boasted about travelling business class

A man who played a key role in an £8m fraud that targeted more than 350 elderly and vulnerable people has been jailed for seven years.

Anthony Kemp, 62, from Birtley, was part of a gang that fleeced victims over a three-year period.

He spent investors' money on lavish holidays, business class travel and a rented luxury home in New Zealand.

He initially denied conspiracy to defraud, but changed his plea at the start of a Teesside Crown Court trial.

image source, Durham Police
image caption, Kemp was extradited to the UK after serving a three year prison sentence in New Zealand

The court heard Durham Police had been investigating the activities of Kemp and two others for five years.

Prosecutors said they began targeting mainly elderly and retired people in 2001 and persuaded them to enter a pyramid-style scheme.

Victims who handed over large sums of money were told they would get access to high-yielding investments abroad.

But in the course of the next three years the cash was squandered on lavish lifestyles, enabling Kemp to rent an exclusive harbour property in Auckland, New Zealand, the court was told.

The court was shown photos of his Auckland house, described by estate agents as being "as close to heaven as life on earth permits".

The court also heard Kemp enjoyed business class flights and champagne cruises on the QE2.

Despite being given dates at which their investments would mature, the victims, referred to as "members" by the gang, were given a range of excuses, including delays owing to money-laundering regulations imposed after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

image source, Durham Police
image caption, Police said Kemp used much of the cash to rent a luxury house in Auckland, New Zealand

Kemp moved to New Zealand in 2005, telling his victims he was attempting to set up tax-free trusts in the country.

But in 2015, after attempting similar scams there, he was arrested and later admitted fraud.

Kemp was sentenced to three years in jail and after his release was extradited to the UK.

In 2016, Laurence Wheeler, 74, from Tursdale, County Durham, admitted conspiracy to defraud and was jailed for nine years.

His son, James Wheeler, 48, from Ferryhill, County Durham, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering through his bank accounts, and was sentenced to eight years.

Judge Sean Morris told Kemp: "You duped people out of their life savings and it was remorseless.

"I have seen nauseating photographs of all the laughs you were having while this misery was inflicted."

Det Con Helen Bell said: "These people have devastated lives.

"Some have since died from stress from the fraud contributing to their ill health, while others have lost their homes and life savings."

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