Home National State rejects pyramid-schemer’s plea: ‘I stole the money, and plead guilty’

State rejects pyramid-schemer’s plea: ‘I stole the money, and plead guilty’

(Graphic: John McCann/M&G)

The Johannesburg commercial crimes court has rejected the guilty plea of an admitted R11.6‑million pyramid-scheme fraudster, who allegedly swindled 11 unsuspecting people over a seven-year period. 

Roderick Cole-Edwards faces more than 100 charges of theft and contravening the Banks Act as well as the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act for allegedly running a pyramid scheme known as Radical Investments, which the state said “was not registered or licenced as a financial services provider as required by the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act”. 

Sources privy to the investigation told the Mail & Guardian that Cole-Edwards is also being probed for allegedly defrauding a US citizen out of more than $2-million. 

“Investigators were still battling with locating the complainant in the US. But as soon as that is done, a separate criminal case will be opened against Cole-Edwards for that $2-million [alleged] fraud,” said an insider, who asked to remain anonymous. 

The charge sheet in the R11.6‑million case stated that Cole- Edwards had promised that all those who had put money into Radical Investments would earn a substantial 15% interest annually.

In his plea agreement, which the M&G has seen, Cole-Edwards admitted to duping his investors, including about the fact that he was not licenced or registered to provide the services he charged for. He had misrepresented himself as qualified, and could face more than 20 years’ imprisonment for the crimes he admitted to having committed. The investors’ names are known to the M&G, but will not be published in order to protect their identities. 

A detailed breakdown of the payments showed that a single investor paid more than R2.7-million into Radical Investments’s account from December 2012 to September 2014 without receiving a single return on the annual 15% interest that was promised on investments.

Another alleged victim gave the self-proclaimed thief more than R2.6-million from April 2010, when the investor paid R1.2-million as an initial investment, to November 2012, without also accruing any promised benefits from the large deposits. 

There was one more person who gave the Cole-Edwards more than R1-million, with an investor depositing more than R1.8-million from February 2007 to November 2011. The lowest amount Cole-Edwards received was a R78 000 payment that was deposited into his account in February 2013. 

“The accused [Cole-Edwards] utilised the money entrusted to him by the [investors] for his own benefit,” reads the charge sheet against the admitted fraudster. 

His plea agreement said that he voluntarily admitted to the crimes he was charged with, and that he understood the consequences of entering his guilty plea. 

“I was never promised any particular sentence by anyone and I plead guilty out of my own free will and I have consulted with my legal representative about the consequences of a plea of guilty. 

“I have thoroughly consulted with my legal representative about the strength of the case against me,” reads Cole-Edwards’s agreement. 

“I admit that I misappropriated the funds entrusted to me and that my unlawful actions resulted in financial losses to the aforementioned persons.

“I plead guilty to the charges freely and voluntarily. I have no valid legal defence to the charges,” he added.  

However, on Tuesday at the Johannesburg commercial crimes court, Cole-Edwards’s guilty plea was rejected because he failed to state that he “had the intention to permanently deprive the complainants of their monies”. Cole-Edwards also did not admit fully to all the elements of his crime of theft, the court found. 

In not divulging all the elements of his alleged crimes, Cole-Edwards said in his agreement: “I do not deal with the circumstances under which the crimes were committed and the circumstances related to that will be ventilated during sentencing proceedings.”

A source close to the National Prosecuting Authority said all the state had to do was provide the court with Cole-Edwards’s bank records to show that he immediately spent the money he received without ever intending to return it with interest or without a loss. 

“That will be easy to show because Cole-Edwards was the sole signatory of Radical Investments, and spent the money that he received on himself. The reason he doesn’t want to admit fully to the crimes of theft is that he claims to have paid back some of the money he stole to his victims. 

“He is doing this to get a lesser sentence, but theft is theft. Cole-Edwards could get more than 20 years in prison should the court find him guilty,” said another source, who also asked to remain anonymous. 

Cole-Edwards, who is out on bail, will return to court next month when a final decision on his plea and sentencing is expected to be made. 

The Johannesburg commercial crimes court has rejected the guilty plea of an admitted R11.6‑million pyramid-scheme fraudster, who allegedly swindled 11 unsuspecting people over a seven-year period. 

Roderick Cole-Edwards faces more than 100 charges of theft and contravening the Banks Act as well as the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act for allegedly running a pyramid scheme known as Radical Investments, which the state said “was not registered or licenced as a financial services provider as required by the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act”. 

Sources privy to the investigation told the Mail & Guardian that Cole-Edwards is also being probed for allegedly defrauding a US citizen out of more than $2-million. 

“Investigators were still battling with locating the complainant in the US. But as soon as that is done, a separate criminal case will be opened against Cole-Edwards for that $2-million [alleged] fraud,” said an insider, who asked to remain anonymous. 

The charge sheet in the R11.6‑million case stated that Cole- Edwards had promised that all those who had put money into Radical Investments would earn a substantial 15% interest annually.

In his plea agreement, which the M&G has seen, Cole-Edwards admitted to duping his investors, including about the fact that he was not licenced or registered to provide the services he charged for. He had misrepresented himself as qualified, and could face more than 20 years’ imprisonment for the crimes he admitted to having committed. The investors’ names are known to the M&G, but will not be published in order to protect their identities. 

A detailed breakdown of the payments showed that a single investor paid more than R2.7-million into Radical Investments’s account from December 2012 to September 2014 without receiving a single return on the annual 15% interest that was promised on investments.

Another alleged victim gave the self-proclaimed thief more than R2.6-million from April 2010, when the investor paid R1.2-million as an initial investment, to November 2012, without also accruing any promised benefits from the large deposits. 

There was one more person who gave the Cole-Edwards more than R1-million, with an investor depositing more than R1.8-million from February 2007 to November 2011. The lowest amount Cole-Edwards received was a R78 000 payment that was deposited into his account in February 2013. 

“The accused [Cole-Edwards] utilised the money entrusted to him by the [investors] for his own benefit,” reads the charge sheet against the admitted fraudster. 

His plea agreement said that he voluntarily admitted to the crimes he was charged with, and that he understood the consequences of entering his guilty plea. 

“I was never promised any particular sentence by anyone and I plead guilty out of my own free will and I have consulted with my legal representative about the consequences of a plea of guilty. 

“I have thoroughly consulted with my legal representative about the strength of the case against me,” reads Cole-Edwards’s agreement. 

“I admit that I misappropriated the funds entrusted to me and that my unlawful actions resulted in financial losses to the aforementioned persons.

“I plead guilty to the charges freely and voluntarily. I have no valid legal defence to the charges,” he added.  

However, on Tuesday at the Johannesburg commercial crimes court, Cole-Edwards’s guilty plea was rejected because he failed to state that he “had the intention to permanently deprive the complainants of their monies”. Cole-Edwards also did not admit fully to all the elements of his crime of theft, the court found. 

In not divulging all the elements of his alleged crimes, Cole-Edwards said in his agreement: “I do not deal with the circumstances under which the crimes were committed and the circumstances related to that will be ventilated during sentencing proceedings.”

A source close to the National Prosecuting Authority said all the state had to do was provide the court with Cole-Edwards’s bank records to show that he immediately spent the money he received without ever intending to return it with interest or without a loss. 

“That will be easy to show because Cole-Edwards was the sole signatory of Radical Investments, and spent the money that he received on himself. The reason he doesn’t want to admit fully to the crimes of theft is that he claims to have paid back some of the money he stole to his victims. 

“He is doing this to get a lesser sentence, but theft is theft. Cole-Edwards could get more than 20 years in prison should the court find him guilty,” said another source, who also asked to remain anonymous. 

Cole-Edwards, who is out on bail, will return to court next month when a final decision on his plea and sentencing is expected to be made. 

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