A £21m Bitcoin fraud netted a Blackpool-based gang so much money they struggled to spend it, said police.
James Parker used a glitch in a trading website to siphon money with the help of Kelly Caton, Stephen Boys, Jordan Robinson and James Austin-Beddoes.
They made money so quickly that Parker bought cars for strangers and gave away £5,000 vouchers to try to deal with the proceeds, Lancashire Police said.
But it fell apart when Caton reported to police having her Bitcoin stolen.
Parker masterminded the plot from his council flat in Blackpool after he discovered a glitch in a cryptocurrency trading website in October 2017 allowing him to take other people’s money, said police.
He and his co-conspirators siphoned off an “absolutely staggering” £21m worth of credits in cryptocurrency over a three-month period, Det Sgt David Wainwright told BBC North West Tonight.
Parker used the services of Boys, who was nicknamed Rodney from BBC One comedy Only Fools and Horses, to help him launder the stolen funds through various accounts around the world.
The fraud was only discovered when Caton, 45, from Blackpool, rang police and reported her daughter had stolen 15 Bitcoin, which at the time was worth about £75,000.
“It was that call to police [that] made us wonder ‘how does this lady who lives in modest circumstances, a very small rented home in Blackpool, possess such hidden wealth’?,” Det Sgt Wainwright said.
What unravelled was one of the biggest fraud cases Lancashire Police has been involved with.
He said such was the scale of it, the gang “struggled to spend the money”.
“The wealth they came across was probably too much for them to comprehend themselves.”
Det Sgt Wainwright said Parker, who moved out of his flat and into a hotel, bought cars for about 20 people – including random people he met in a pub – and he handed out £5,000 gift vouchers to strangers in the street as well as tipping taxi drivers £50.
“It is the kind of thing you see in films and think it would never happen in real life,” he said.
“He did gain a bit of a reputation round the Fylde coast as being the Bitcoin millionaire but he kept the source of that very secret until the police found out.”
Det Sgt Wainwright said he was now working on retrieving as much of the money as possible to return it to victims of the fraud.
Parker died in 2021 before he could be prosecuted, but his corrupt financial adviser Boys, 59, from Accrington, as well as Robinson, 24, from Fleetwood, Caton and James Austin-Beddoes, 28, from Lytham St Annes, were handed jail terms on Friday at Preston Crown Court for several fraud offences.
Boys was found guilty of converting and transferring criminal property and jailed for six years.
Caton and Robinson both received sentences of four years six months in prison after being convicted of fraud, converting and acquiring criminal property.
Austin-Beddoes, 28, from St Annes, was found guilty of fraud and acquiring criminal property and admitted converting criminal property and was jailed for 18 months, suspended for a year.