Con woman jailed for stealing from her friends - St Albans

18/11/2014

Con woman Margarita Clark was jailed for 40 months on Monday, 17 November 2014, after stealing more than two-and-a-half million pounds from her friends.

Clark, aged 63, used the money to fund a "lavish lifestyle," eating in expensive restaurants, buying designer clothes, going on luxury cruises and taking regular holidays to the Caribbean.

Some of her victims were in the public gallery at St Albans Crown Court when she appeared for sentence pleading guilty to seven offences of theft.

Ann Evans, prosecuting for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), told the court the offences were committed over a number of years during which time Clark, who was known as 'Rita,' duped friends and associates into giving her hundreds of thousands of pounds for bogus property deals. Mrs Evans said over a six year period when she was stealing the money, investigators had calculated she spent an average of £60,000 a year on holidays.

Because Clark had been a "trusted family friend" to many of the victims, Recorder Brian Argyle hearing the case was told the betrayal they now felt was "immense." Of the money she had swindled, nothing was left. She had spent the lot and was even £8000 overdrawn.

The court was told people had lost their life savings to Clark, who lived in a converted luxury barn in White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne with her husband. As a result, losers, some of whom were elderly, suffered ill health, depression and anxiety. One elderly neighbour, who parted with £722,500 after listening to Clark's patter about how she was involved in lucrative property deals, suffered a nervous breakdown.

Outlining the prosecution's case against Clark, Mrs Evans told the court: "The victims believed Clark was a trusted family friend. No doubt in the past she had been a successful businesswoman working in property refurbishing, renting and selling in Spain. But a time came when, for reasons best known to herself, she started to steal from her friends and associates. The charges concern the thefts of a total of £2,562,000 obtained in this way."

The prosecutor said victim Barry Fromson, who had met the defendant 10 years ago when he was working in Spain, had been taken in by her talk of the money to be made by investing in her property deals. In a matter of months she was able to steal £1,050,000 from him. He finally learnt the truth about Clark and his money in 2012 when contacted by Hertfordshire police. Mr Fromson told detectives: "She befriended me and my wife and my children and came across as lovely, sincere, kind and considerate."  He said he had spent 40 years trying to work hard for his family so that he could enjoy his retirement. "I now feel guilt and shame having to live with this error for the rest of my life and knowing my family will suffer" he told police officers.

Another man had lost £100,000 because of Clark's lies. A taxi driver she knew well had handed her £43,000. A Multiple Sclerosis sufferer aged 68, a friend of Clark's husband for 45 years, had lost £115,000 after being duped by her. He said the stress had worsened his condition. "She has taken my life savings which, at my age and because of my illness, I will never get back. She has ruined my life, how can I come back from this," he said.  Another man who had trusted her as a friend lost £25,000 to Clark.

Michael Morris defending said Clark hadn,t "set out" to deceive her victims, but because of the economic downturn had been unable to sell properties. He said by her pleas she had taken full responsibility for her actions and now felt remorse for what she'd done.

The court was told her converted barn home in Broxbourne had been repossessed, along with another property, and her assets had been frozen.

Recorder Argyle jailed her for 40 months, telling her she had "lied, swindled and cheated" former friends out of their savings. "The money has all been spent by you on lavish and extravagant luxuries,"he said.

Before Clark was led away, Recorder Argyle told her the impact of her crimes on her victims had been immense, telling her: "Your behaviour has ruined lives."  Misery and ill health had been suffered by her former friends and he said: "You built up a relationship of trust with them and you breached that trust."

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