A former Premier League footballer has been jailed for scamming friends and family out of £15million to maintain his lavish lifestyle.
Richard Rufus pretended to be a successful foreign exchange trader to convince his trusting victims to invest.
But the ex-Charlton star, 47, lost the cash “hand over fist”.
Rufus’ criminal investigation followed a Charity Commission report into “mismanagement” at Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), a church founded Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, which invested £5m with the former Charlton Athletic player.
Rufus was found guilty by a civil court judge in 2015 to have operated a Ponzi-style scheme between 2007 and 2011, losing or spending £8m from several investors.
Rufus was a leading member of the KICC whose “founder, visionary and senior pastor” is Ashimolowo, a Nigerian evangelist.
In 2009 and 2010 the trustees agreed to give Rufus £5m to invest after he promised them returns of 55% a year at a time when interest rates were less than 1%. As well as millions in donations from churchgoers – which were boosted by gift aid tax relief – it had recently received £10m from the London Development Agency, a public body that needed to demolish the church’s then home in east London to build the Olympic Park.
He used £7million of the total £15million to pay back investors in a pyramid scheme, while around £2million was used for his own purposes.
This meant Rufus was able to “maintain a lifestyle of a footballer” long after he was forced to retire in 2004.
The centre-back enjoyed the “trappings of wealth” and drove a flash Bentley and wore a Rolex.
Rufus has now been jailed for seven-and-a-half-years after being convicted of three counts of fraud and two counts of money laundering related offences.
He will have to serve half of his sentence before being released on licence.
Sentencing today, Judge Dafna Spiro told him: “The victims of this fraud are haunted by your actions.
“The people who invested did so in good faith, they believed your spiel because they thought you were the real deal.
“You were robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“You were living a lie at the expense of others.”
Southwark Crown Court heard how Rufus lived in a five-bedroom home on a private estate in leafy Purley, South London.
As a result, he spent nearly £700,000 over five years on mortgages and loans.
The ex-footballer also splurged £200,000 on motorising costs – including £70,000 to Mercedes Benz Finance, a further £45,000 to the car company and over £46,000 to Land Rover,
He transferred £222,468.11 to his wife, Simone Rufus and £158,513.86 to a joint account he held with her.
The only legitimate income Rufus received was £850-a-month rent he earned on a property in Surrey.
Lucy Organ, prosecuting, said: “He scammed friends, family and associates out of millions of pounds by pretending he was able to offer a low-risk investment in the foreign exchange market.
“He claimed he had significant success with his strategy in the past.
“Mr Rufus took over £15million in total. He traded some of it, as I have said, losing vast amounts, but that wasn’t the end of the fraud.
“Of that money, about £2million he never even transferred to foreign exchange trading accounts. He used this money partly to prop up the losses that his scams were making.
“Making payments back to other investors to continue the pretence that they were making a good investment, a so-called ‘pyramid scheme’ and partly simply for his own benefit, treating the money he received from investors as his own.”