Pyramid scheme family guilty

2008-10-31 00:00

Yesterday’s guilty verdict in the R152-million Clifford pyramid scheme saga, described as one of the country’s most drawn-out and expensive fraud cases, probably came too late for the KwaZulu-Natal investors who lost hundreds of thousands of rands in 2000.

Some could not be traced; one had died. Umbogintwini resident Leonard Mitchell said his father’s estate was wound up a few years ago without any expectation of recovering the R50 000 that was invested in the Usapho Trust. He was not even aware that the case had finally drawn to a close in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

Like Mitchell, at least 900 investors countrywide lost a combined total of more than R150 million when Maureen Clifford’s Usapho Trust collapsed in 2000. Structured like a classic pyramid scheme, it promised investors that their money would grow by as much as 10% within three months and used funds from new investors to pay older investors at the top of the pyramid.

Yesterday, Clifford, her daughter Delene de Wit, her sister Thelma van Rooyen and former Absa employees Neil Terblanche and Gerhardt Visagie were found guilty of fraud. Although all were cleared of contravening the Banks Act, Clifford was also found guilty of theft.

Clifford claimed that at the time of the collapse of the Usapho Trust, she was not herself because she was dealing with four deaths in the family — her husband’s from an illness, a daughter’s in a motor accident in Gauteng, another daughter’s by suicide, and her grandson’s drowning in the family swimming pool.

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