Roger William Bessent, a Lancashire-based accountant who acted as a trustee and administrator to workplace pension schemes, has been sentenced to more than three years in prison.
According to The Pensions Regulator, Bessent was a trustee and administrator for the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme, but transferred savers’ money into struggling and new businesses he part owned and which were run by himself, his family and a client.
Besides 40 months in prison, he now faces further court action to make him repay the cash, the watchdog stated.
At the sentence hearing at Preston Crown Court on Friday (March 29), Judge Nicholas Barker said the defendant’s "selfish and greedy acts" had targeted ordinary, hard-working people who had trusted Bessent to invest their money to provide for their retirement.
He added: "The system relies on trust. It’s that trust you breached. You used their money as your own. You knew what you were doing was dishonest and wrong."
Bessent had pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud, making prohibited employer–related investments and acting as a director while disqualified.
Judge Barker sentenced Bessent to serve 35 months for the fraud offences and four months for the employer–related investments offences, to be served concurrently. He was also ordered to serve five months for the director disqualification offences.
The convictions follow investigations by both TPR and the Insolvency Service.
It is the first time a prosecution by TPR has led to an immediate custodial sentence, it stated.
The court set further hearing for July 5 when a confiscation order will be sought to force Bessent, from Lancashire, to repay the money he took and which remains outstanding.
Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said by working with the Insolvency Service, the regulator has "brought Bessent to justice and will now go after the money he took from the pension scheme".
She said: "This sentence shows how seriously the courts take the theft of people’s hard-earned savings.
"Trustees should be in no doubt that if they abuse their position like Bessent did they should be prepared to go to prison."
Guy Opperman, minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, warned that "fraudsters who abuse positions of trust to line their own pockets with other people’s hard-earned savings will feel the full force of the law".
He said: "I welcome the sentence handed down by the courts today, and the regulator’s action in bringing this prosecution.
"We’re determined to protect everyone’s pensions which is why we’re introducing a new offence of wilful or reckless behaviour relating to a pension scheme, punishable by up to seven years in jail or unlimited fines."
For Nathan Long, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, the rise of "sinister pension scams that aim to trick people into parting with their hard-earned retirement savings is a serious stain on society and needs eradicating".