A bogus faith healer who cheated vulnerable victims out of £650,000, leaving many facing financial ruin, was jailed for nine years.
Mohammed Ashrafi, 50, used a series of “black magic” tricks to dupe people into thinking he had supernatural powers.
He demanded upfront payments of tens of thousands in cash, falsely claiming they were due to win multi-million pound lottery jackpots.
After he was found guilty by a jury and sentenced for 15 frauds and a blackmail, it emerged investigations into his activities in Birmingham, London and Canada are on-going.
The Canadian authorities have already applied for his extradition.
Audio: Ashrafi duping victims into believing it was the voice of Sai Baba or the voice of God.
An alleged victim, Paramjit Bhullar, who travelled from Toronto to see Ashrafi jailed at Leicester Crown Court, said: “I’m very happy.
“He defrauded me out of almost $250,000 in 2007 and about 40 other Canadians have also suffered at his hands.”
A Leicestershire victim said afterwards: “It was such a relief when he was found guilty, but the sentence should have been double for all the misery he’s caused so many.
“He’s manipulative and showed no remorse.”
Another victim, from Leicester, said: “The year awaiting trial was extremely traumatic – and I still face 10 years of paying off loans.
“I feel really angry.”
A woman duped out of more than £60,000 said: “The ordeal has destroyed my life.
“I was suffering ill-health and he took advantage of my vulnerability.
“I feel intimidated and abused, the way he manipulated me and my family with such ease makes me feel sick.”
Victim impact reports read out in court highlighted the hardship faced by some who handed over lifesavings, with one woman fearing she would lose her home.
She said: “It’s left me with a lifetime of suffering. I feel stupid, embarrassed, ashamed and hurt. I sometimes feel like ending my life.”
Others spoke of suffering anxiety and depression.
As the verdicts were announced Ashrafi stood expressionless in the dock, dressed in a navy zip-up jacket and a white open-neck shirt.
Sentencing, Judge Robert Brown said: “You asserted you were motivated by a desire to help the poor and needy – I reject that completely.
“You were out to make as much money as you could for yourself.
“You learned, probably in India before coming to the UK, tricks by which you could deceive your victims, who came to you for help.
“You portrayed yourself as a faith healer and holy man who could heal by the powers of Sai Baba – convincing people you had special powers – but you were just a conman.
“You spent £16,000 in 10 months advertising your services in Leicester, in a determined and well organised fraud.”
Ashrafi, who used a false name Kamal-Ji, was said to have targeted members of the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities – before fleeing to London where he again changed his name and advertised ‘spiritual healing’ services.
During the four week trial, prosecutor, James House QC described Ashrafi as “a vulture” who preyed on the needy when they were most vulnerable.
One of the alleged tricks involved a cooking pot of boiling water on a portable gas stove.
Victims were duped after suddenly hearing a loud clatter in the pot as it boiled away.
Mr House said: “When the defendant took the lid off they were amazed to discover large nails and lemons had suddenly appeared in the pot.”
The defendant claimed it was a sign of black magic to win their trust.
Mr House said: “It wasn’t a feat of divine intervention, it was a trick.
“When later arrested, having fled to London, the police found that Ashrafi used wax to attach nails on the underside of the pot lid.”
When the wax melted, the nails simply dropped into the pot.
He also performed tricks by producing lottery tickets from balls of dough, conjured up prayer beads out of thin air and played a sinister recording that some victims believed was the voice of a revered saint, Sai Baba.
Ashrafi, formerly of Babingley Avenue, off Parker Drive, Leicester, was found guilty of 14 counts of fraud involving 18 victims, by falsely claiming that in return for payments for materials required for prayer, such as deer musk, they would win the lottery, between January and April 2014.
He was also convicted of blackmailing a couple out of £50,000, last February.
The blackmail involved Ashrafi drugging a woman who became unconscious, before taking a “compromising” video recording of her in a state of partial undress – and threatening to put it on the internet.
Ashrafi, a father of seven, denied any wrong doing and sought to blame the victims, claiming they were lying and had conspired against him.
Defence counsel, Michael Stradling, said Ashrafi had no previous convictions recorded against him and was concerned his adult children’s marriage prospects in India were “blighted” because they would be unable to wed without their father being present.
Afterwards, Det Insp Mark Hopkins of the force’s complex investigation unit, said: “This was a complex investigation which took officers across the country and resulted in more than 150 statements being taken and numerous interviews.
“It was extremely difficult for the victims to come forward.
“This conviction is a testament to their courage.
“There is a strong possibility that there may be other victims of Ashrafi’s crimes, if you have concerns that you too may have been a victim of fraud or may have been visited in similar circumstances then please come forward.
“We appreciate the sensitivities surrounding reporting these crimes but be please be assured that we have specialist officers who can support and guide you through the judicial process.”
If you have any information about similar crimes or have been a victim please contact one of the following agencies and report your concerns.
Leicestershire Police on 101, Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or the Citizens Advice Bureau on 0300 330 1025.
Steve Chappell, Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS East Midlands said: “Fraud is a very serious crime. We should not underestimate the distress this type of offending causes for its victims.
“Mohammed Ashrafi ran a sophisticated operation to gain the confidence of his victims and showed no sign of stopping until he was arrested.
“His cynical campaign of dishonesty has been brought to an end because his victims have stood up in court to expose his lies and deception.
“The CPS would like to recognise the courage and fortitude of those victims who came forward and gave evidence. Without their testimony and co-operation this matter could not have reached this successful conclusion.
“Ashrafi must have presented a very plausible face to his victims. Unfortunately there will always be criminals like this defendant who will seek to prey on vulnerable people, and we would therefore urge people to be vigilant and ensure that they do not fall victim themselves.” source: Leicester Mercury