TAMPA — A British man believed to be one of the masterminds behind a Tampa Bay-based investment fraud scheme with international reach pleaded guilty Thursday.
Robert Sinclair Pope, 53, could get up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
He also has to give up 21 acres in the Turks and Caicos islands and property in the Dominican Republic, as well as his personal airplane, a 1973 Ferrari, a boat and about $42 million kept in dozens of bank accounts.
Authorities have accused Pope and six other people of defrauding investors in Britain and beyond and dumping millions of illicit gains in banks in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, among other places, between 2004 and 2008.
The group hijacked the identifies of defunct corporations and sold bogus stocks as though they owned them, according to a federal indictment filed in Tampa.
They pocketed about $130 million, the indictment states.
Pope is the only one in the group of seven who has pleaded guilty. The others — including a Hillsborough father and daughter — appear to be heading toward a trial in January.
If Pope helps the U.S. Attorney's Office with its case against the other defendants, prosecutors could ask the judge for a lighter sentence, according to the plea agreement.
Pope, who formerly worked in insurance, was arrested in Spain in the fall and extradited to Tampa in January.
The investigation was handled by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service and the London police.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.