David Ross knew Bev Nicholson's partner had recently died of cancer, but he convinced her to keep money invested in his crooked scheme anyway.
Ms Nicholson, 51, had little money in reserve and her future depended on the $170,000 she stood to gain from Ross Asset Management before the company collapsed.
Like many others, she never realised she was being ripped off by a man running New Zealand's biggest ponzi scheme.
When it all unravelled last year, investors were owed hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I was in a state of shock - I didn't believe it," the Kingston woman said yesterday. She believes Ross preyed on the vulnerable - the sick and dying - when things got desperate.
"I hate him," she said.
"He was just a crook right from the beginning. He took my money and gave it to someone else."
Ross, 63, yesterday pleaded guilty to $115 million fraud - the single largest fraud in New Zealand history - when he appeared in the Wellington District Court.
The Serious Fraud Office said Ross ran a ponzi scheme, which he disguised by falsely reporting clients' investments.
Large portions of client portfolios shown as invested through broker "Bevis Marks" were fictitious and never existed, resulting in an overstatement of investment positions by more than $380m.
Ross lured new investors with promises of returns of up to 30 per cent.
More than 1200 people were affected by the scheme. About 700 of those lost out, and are unlikely to recover their money.
Ross Asset Management Investors Group spokesman Bruce Tichbon estimated that more than 20 per cent of Ross' victims lived in the South Island, many in Queenstown.
Mr Tichbon had written victim-impact statements for some people who were on suicide watch or taking anti-depressants because they had lost everything by investing in the scheme.
"People have lost their life savings. It's like their life's work has gone down the drain," he said.
Ms Nicholson, a cleaner for 30 years, said Ross had wrecked her retirement.
"If I think about the future I get a bit upset about it," she said. "I've got no reserves. It took away any pleasure in life - it's all work."
She invested $50,000 in his scheme in 2004 after someone recommended it as a "hands off" option to property.
Five years later she tried to withdraw everything after her partner, Roger Macaskill, died, amid concerns about the global financial crisis.
However, Ross convinced her not to because Mr Macaskill told him he wanted a good return on his investment.
When she was told the company had collapsed last year, her most recent quarterly report said her investment portfolio was worth $170,000.
"The only satisfaction we're going to get out of this is if he goes to jail for a long time. We're not going to get our money back."
Ross has been remanded in custody to reappear on October 24 when a sentencing date will be set.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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