A gang of three that used aliases from films and TV shows such as Suits, The Riot Club and Hart to Hart have been jailed for a combined five years and eight months for a Ponzi investment scheme that defrauded investors of over £1m.   

Sujanthan Sotheeswaran, Darren Peck and Denis Deegan all acted as ‘brokers’ on behalf of Choice Option and, later, Blue Crest Capital Options, where they would cold-call members of the public to persuade them to invest in a managed account scheme.

Financial records indicated that Sotheeswaran, Peck, and Deegan were among the top 20 % of staff earners, receiving payments sourced directly from investors who were cold-called and pressured by the brokers into joining the scheme. Investors were told they were not allowed to trade themselves and that only the brokers could execute trades.

Sujanthan Sotheeswaran, 35, of The Forum, Molesey was sentenced to three years imprisonment for his involvement.

Darren Peck, 43, of Leighton Road, London, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He must also complete 25 days rehabilitation activity and 100 hours unpaid work to be undertaken within 12 months.

Denis Deegan, 49, of David Wildman Lane, London, was sentenced to two years eight months imprisonment.

They were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 19 January 2024 after all were found guilty of one count of fraud by false representation.

Financial Investigator Hayley Wade, from the Civil Recovery Team at the City of London Police, said: “No investment is ever fool proof and if an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, with the returns being guaranteed, we would encourage everyone to do their research. Take a moment to think before you hand over money, especially if you are being pressured by brokers.

“At the heart of all investment fraud are bullish tactics and an insatiable greed by so-called brokers acting on behalf of the company. These people are ruthless in their pursuit of money, with no regard for the consequences for the investors they target.

“Before you make an investment, seek the advice of an independent financial advisor and never risk what you can’t afford to lose, even if the investment sounds credible.

“Sotheeswaran, Peck and Deegan used elaborate and detailed marketing materials, often copied from respected trading firms, to deceive countless victims. Their custodial sentences should serve as a reminder that no matter how convincing your pitch may be and however clever you think you are, if its fraudulent then we will find out.”

The investment involved depositing funds with the company, which would trade the funds on the binary options market, purportedly creating a profit for both the investor and the company. Investors were told they would receive a fixed monthly return, or dividend, as well as an overall profit after 12 months.

The reality however was that the trading platform used by Choice Option was not connected to a banking system, meaning that investors’ funds were simply at the disposal of the defendants. It was widely accepted during the trial that the investment proposition from traders was in fact a Ponzi scheme.

By October 2016, clients were unable to access their online accounts, could not establish contact with company staff and could not withdraw their funds.

The City of London Police was first alerted in February 2016, after receiving reports from investors claiming that they suspected the trading company was not legitimate.

It is believed that the ‘brokers’ used aliases when corresponding with prospective clients. Some of the aliases used included ‘Jonathan Hart’ from 70’s crime show Hart to Hart and ‘Miles Richards’ from the 2014 film The Riot Club. ‘Harvey Specter’ from the US law drama Suits, as well as ‘Alister Ryle’ and ‘Harry Villiers’ from The Riot Club, were also used by ex-employees at Choice Option, although these people were not charged.

The brokers at Choice Option were all voluntarily interviewed under caution, with Deegan and Sotheeswaran giving “no comment” to all questions put to them. Peck gave a full account in interview, claiming that he believed it was a genuine investment as he could see trades being executed on the platform used by brokers at the firm.