A serial fraudster has been jailed for five years and eight months for defrauding his ex-girlfriend out of nearly £300,000.
Mark Acklom, 45, duped Carolyn Woods into lending him her life savings by pretending they were in a “committed relationship” and promised to marry her despite still living with his wife.
On Wednesday, Ms Woods, 61, told Bristol Crown Court that Acklom, who posed as a Swiss banker and MI6 agent, “destroyed” her life after he skipped the country and left her penniless, having used her money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
She said in a victim impact statement: “Mark Acklom acted deliberately, and in the most calculated, pre-meditated way, to defraud me of all my money and nearly all my personal possessions, and to deprive me of my home and my job, thereby rendering me totally helpless and at his mercy.
“He also deliberately isolated me from my family and friends, and played psychological games to deceive me and engender a sense of fear in me. It was an act of the utmost cruelty, designed to destroy my life for his personal gain.
“I have felt condemned to a life that I don’t want and I grieve for the life I once had.”
Ms Woods, a divorced mother of two, said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has suffered “total financial ruin” and has been hounded by debt collection agencies after cashing in her pension and using all her savings to pay her bills.
Prosecutor Charles Thomas said Acklom – using the alias of Mark Conway – had accepted a marriage proposal from Ms Woods in February 2012, just one month after they met in a boutique in Tetbury where she worked.
Mr Thomas said: “He was a younger man, charming, apparently single. He was saying to her he was in earnest very keen on her. There were mutual exchanges of affection.”
Mr Thomas said Acklom claimed he was friends with celebrities including Nicky Clarke and Chris Evans, had spoken to Hillary Clinton and knew fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, and was involved with secret MI6 missions.
But as Ms Woods began lending Acklom large amounts of money over the course of the following four months, his visits became more infrequent and he began to make excuses for not being able to see her, citing work and on one occasion being poisoned.
Acklom duped her into lending him £299,564 of her life savings in 2012 for renovation work at a number of properties in Bath, Somerset, as well as to buy a Porsche and rent a Georgian manor in the city.
He later left the country and was named as one of the UK’s most wanted fugitives as part of Operation Captura, a multi-agency initiative involving the National Crime Agency and Crimestoppers to track down British fugitives abroad.
A European Arrest Warrant was issued in June 2016 and he was believed to be at large in Spain, having been released from a Spanish prison over a £200,000 property fraud.
In May 2017 he was spotted in Geneva, where he was believed to have been with his family.
Acklom was arrested in Switzerland the following month after being found at a luxury apartment in Zurich where he had been living under a false name after more than two years on the run.
When Acklom was arrested he was married to Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez, and together they had two young daughters.
She was known to use aliases including Yolianda Ross, Maria Long and Mary Moss, and may have worked as a yoga teacher or attended yoga classes.
He was extradited to the UK from Switzerland earlier this year to face the fraud charges.
On Wednesday Acklom pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by false representation before he was to face a trial.
Gudrun Young, defending, likened Acklom’s previous convictions to the main character of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Catch Me If You Can, which included fraudulently running up thousands of pounds of private jet flights as a teenager and stealing his father’s credit card.
She said Acklom had no idea of Ms Woods’s wealth at the start of their relationship, and said the “infatuated” woman had handed her savings over to him voluntarily.
Ms Young said: “The two of them were seeing each other and becoming more romantically intense for a period of time before he was aware she had any savings.
“She clearly formed an exaggerated impression of his wealth, something he may well have encouraged.
“She was so infatuated with him by that time she was happy to lend him money more or less as she saw fit.
“There was very little discussed between them as to what the money would be used for.”
Ms Young said though their relationship had been “genuinely romantic” it had not been “sexually consummated”.
Judge Martin Picton said: “You took advantage of your victim in a cruel and cynical manner, and whilst you did not target her from the outset it was plain once you knew what you might gain from her financially that you set out to do so in a ruthless and selfish manner.
“Since then you’ve not made any effort to make good for the harm you did. She’s not seen a penny of the money you took off her and I feel it’s unlikely she will ever do so.”
In 1991, Acklom, then aged 16, received a four-year custodial sentence for a £466,000 mortgage fraud after he posed as a City stockbroker.
He also spent £11,000 after stealing his father’s credit card, swindled a former teacher out of £13,000 and ran up a £34,000 bill with a private charter jet company.
Acklom convinced Leeds Permanent Building Society at the age of 16 that he was a 25-year-old stockbroker on £214,000 a year.
They gave him a £466,000 mortgage for a £516,000 executive home in Dulwich, south London.
Before he was sentenced, his barrister claimed Acklom was a “disturbed” teenager out of touch with reality who stole the credit card “for wining and dining girlfriends and to live an extravagant lifestyle beyond his means … he could not possibly have hoped to get away with it”.