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Home Thanet News Article
Sonia Hergest, from Margate, enchanted family and friends with her lavish lifestyle – which included foreign holidays, eight homes, horses and even a Bentley.
The 38-year-old's claims of being able to defy stock market trends as a financial genius were so convincing that people handed over £300,000 of their life-savings for her to invest.
Hergest, who said she had turned an initial investment of £10,000 into £1million, even pretended to have been struck down with leukaemia to buy herself time.
But now a judge has heard Hergest was actually a devious "Walter Mitty character", who used tall tales to woo potential victims.
When detectives raided her home they discovered she had fled to Essex, leaving behind expensive furniture, shoes and perfume as well as presents still unwrapped.
More than 15 investors – including a man who treated her as an adopted daughter and members of her own family and their close friends - have all been fleeced to fund her flamboyant lifestyle, including holidays to St Lucia, Turkey, Cuba and the USA.
Hergest - who is suffering from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and diabetes - was jailed for two years after pleading guilty to 15 charges of fraud.
She was helped into the dock at Canterbury Crown Court using a walking aid as prosecutor Clare Huntley outlined the 19-month fraud.
The prosecutor revealed how although there was an initial investment of £30,000 on stocks and shares, far from being in the black she had lost all but a couple of thousand pounds.
She revealed close friend Melvyn Mardell had even rented her a home in Harrold Road, Margate, where she could live with "life partner" Sue Lee.
Judge Simon James told Hergest: "You made yourself out as some sort of financial genius, persuading friends and family to invest by promising significant and immediate returns.
"You boasted that you were a millionaire-maker – claiming you had turned an initial investment of £10,000 into a million pounds within a few months.
"Far from being a victim of the economic downturn you are a thoroughly manipulative, dishonest and selfish individual..." - Judge Simon James
"The reality of course was very different. In fact you were exaggerating the profits you were making to secure even more investors."
Investigators discovered at least £170,000 of her victims' "hard-earned" cash had not been invested at all.
It had been used to fund Hergest’s lifestyle – £90,000 on holidays and more than £40,000 that had been withdrawn in cash.
Judge James added: "You cynically serviced a lavish lifestyle of expensive holidays, well-furnished homes, horses and other luxuries.
"You took a significant amount of this money knowing that there was no prospect of any return for your investors. You took the money with no other intention other than spending on yourself.
"You cynically abused the trust of close friends and people who considered you as family. Far from being a victim of the economic downturn you are a thoroughly manipulative, dishonest and selfish individual.
"You clearly had no compunction of using other people's hard-earned money to finance your own millionaire lifestyle. These offences were motivated out of greed.
"Your lies were such that at once you even descended the depths of falsely claiming that you had cancer, to buy yourself more time."
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