A CROOKED financial advisor ripped off desperate homeowners in a huge £1.6m scam.
Edwin McLaren was today found guilty at the High Court in Glasgow after Scotland's longest ever criminal trial.
The case – which started in September 2015 – heard how a string of people from across Scotland lost ownership of their homes at the hands of callous McLaren.
They had gone to the Bentley-driving 52 year-old for help after mainly being hit by money worries.
In many cases, he offered to purchase a share in a house in return for the homeowner getting a much needed cash boost.
McLaren was hailed as a “saviour” - but instead he ended up conning people in despicable fashion.
In a complex fraud, he convinced vulnerable people to sign documents which resulted in them no longer owning their properties.
Houses were then sold on and McLaren went on to pocket the proceeds.
Victims got little, if any, of the cash promised, but McLaren lived it up in a £760,000 mansion in Kilmalcolm, Renfrewshire.
His children went to private school – and his wife Lorraine was able to afford a £100,000 six carat diamond ring.
McLaren also enjoyed no expense-spared trips to Dubai and designer clothes.
While crime funded a luxury lifestyle, one couple meantime – unaware they had been duped - were kicked out of their home when the new owner failed to pay the mortgage.
McLaren was finally snared when one victim went to police in 2012.
It sparked the large scale Operation Reticulate as detectives probed McLaren and his associates.
The conman – who denied the accusations - forced his victims to give evidence during a mammoth trial at the High Court in Glasgow.
One woman was so poorly, she had to give her testimony from her house.
But, McLaren is now behind bars after he was found guilty of 29 charges.
The crimes spanned between 2008 and 2014.
His wife Lorraine McLaren, 52, was convicted of being involved in the scam to the extent of £128,000 and one charge of mortgage fraud.
Her 75-year-old uncle Arthur Horsey was found not guilty of any involvement in the scam.
Judge Lord Stewart told him: “You have been found not guilty. You are free to leave the dock.”
The McLarens showed no emotion as their guilty verdicts were read out.
McLaren – an ex-estate agent – had placed an advert in the national press offering to buy people's homes.
Those who answered were either in significant debt, had poor health or had recently suffered a bereavement.
Some had previously tried banks to try and free equity in their homes, but had been knocked back due to their financial position.
It was then that they turned to McLaren for help.
The jury heard he presented himself as a “millionaire businessman” with hundreds of properties already to his name.
But, he used aliases such as Adrian, AJ, Edmund or Dave Johnstone in his dealings with some of his victims.
Among the many victims was John Demspter, who went to McLaren in early 2010.
He wife had tragically died of cancer and his daughter had also been diagnosed with the condition.
Mr Dempster wanted to pay off his debts and believed he was selling an 80% share of his £120,000 house in Erskine, Renfrewshire.
He was taken to a lawyers office – but he signed a document without his reading glasses on.
Mr Dempster had unwittingly signed for the whole of his house to be handed over.
He told the court: “I trusted him. I thought he was the best friend I could ever have. He seemed to really care.”
Linda and Michael Brown were also duped. Mr Brown had not been able to work due to a heart attack.
They had no memory to signing away the title deeds of their house in Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire.
The court heard how victims continued to pay rent to stay in their homes – clueless that they had already been conned by McLaren.
None of the properties, however, ended up in McLaren's name.
They were transferred to a third party and sale proceeds paid to others.
In a bid to keep victims sweet, McLaren would often give them some cash, but never what they were owed.
But, a couple from Johnstone in Renfrewshire ended up being evicted when the owner of their home had not paid the mortgage.
They had been paying £450 in rent oblivious they no longer held the deeds to the house.
In his closing speech, prosecutor Murdoch MacTaggart said McLaren had “taken a lot of people for fools”.
The advocate depute went on: “He weaved a web of deceit to hide from householders what was actually happening.
“He said he was their friend, a knight in shining armour coming to their aid.
“In truth he was exploiting them. His victims were at a low point in their lives. Some were seriously ill, lost their jobs or overwhelmed by debt.
“They were not sophisticated and not aware of finance. They trusted him – the successful businessman with the big house and the fancy car.”
Police were first alerted to McLaren when a victim from Cowdenbeath in Fife revealed she had not been paid.
It resulted in a painstaking investigation across Scotland – with another victim being traced down south in Newcastle.
It was during the probe detectives had to reveal to people they no longer owned their homes.
McLaren gave evidence for several weeks during the trial.
He told how he had got involved in property and his firm had a number of offices across Renfrewshire and Inverclyde.
McLaren said it generated £50,000 a month in fees.
But, he strenuously denied being a crook and showed no remorse for any of his victims.
Lord Stewart deferred sentence on the McLarens until next month for background reports. McLaren was remanded in custody and his wife allowed bail.
Proceeds of crime proceedings have been started against McLaren.
Detective Superintendent Andy Lawson added: "The result of today’s lengthy court proceedings follows an extremely complex inquiry that is probably one of the largest, most complicated property fraud investigations ever carried out in Scotland.
" team of officers has investigated cases involving a number of victims the length and breadth of the country, who have been left completely distraught, some penniless and homeless, who have been disadvantaged financially and all at the hands of the McLarens.
"For over four years, detectives have worked tirelessly to unpick the network of banking transfers and legal documentation for 24 properties as part of this £1.7 million fraudulent conspiracy spanning a six-year period.
"McLaren orchestrated a series of scams including a 'sell and rent back' con, which involved duping vulnerable victims in financial difficulty to sign over their homes and subsequently by further deception, trick them into transferring the proceeds of sale into an account controlled by Edwin McLaren.
"In some instances, he pretended to individuals that he would give them a loan to pay off their mortgage and other debts when in fact, he had arranged the sale of their property to an associate. He then continued to further deceive those victims by obtaining proceeds from the fraudulent sale from the victim.
"The fraud continued by using this cash as deposits for the next fraudulent transaction.
"A team of specialist search officers, telecommunications and computer forensics experts, financial investigators and criminal analysts pored over hundreds of thousands of documents, to follow the trail and identify those behind the fake racket.
"Undoubtedly, the shameless actions of Edwin McLaren, who had the ability to persuade and dupe innocent victims and professionals into agreeing to his dishonest scheme has wreaked devastation on many people, whilst they continued to live a life of luxury.
"These are heartless individuals, driven by greed, who were ruthless financial predators, and who despite pleas for help from their victims, chose to disregard them as they focused on their financial gain."