A FINANCIAL advisor who swindled elderly customers out of as much as £100,000 during a decade-long campaign of deceit was yesterday locked up for three years.

Raymond Melling falsely promised to put the money into low-risk investments – but conned his clients with forged documents and took the cash for himself.

The fraudster operated as an independent financial advisor at Cleveland Insurance and Financial Services, High Street, Normanby, near Middlesbrough.

One of the meanest cases in Melling’s catalogue of fraud and forgery offences involved a man in his 70s in a care home, who has since died, said Paul Newcombe, prosecuting.

Over a six-year period from 2002 to 2008, Melling, 55, wrote cheques for thousands of pounds using the pensioner’s signature, he told Teesside Crown Court.

After emptying the bank account and putting it in the red, Melling was able to convince estate agents that he had power of attorney and sold his home for £25,000.

He got away with his con for so long because his victim, who had asked Melling to take responsibility for his finances, was too ill to know what was happening.

Melling even invited himself to the man’s care meetings so he could be sure his condition was not improving – at the same time as running up a £60,000 bill in unpaid fees.

When he was arrested last year, Melling’s office and his then home in Castleton, near Whitby, were searched and forged signatures and letters were found.

It emerged that Melling had taken cash from a client in 2000 to invest, but when he was challenged about a nonexistent policy, handed back £11,600 of his £15,000. He also fleeced a man out of £32,000 by passing off another customer’s documents as his own – having simply cut and pasted on his name and address.

When he falsely told the client and his wife that the investment had risen to £41,000, he was bought Christmas gifts for taking care of their finances, the court heard.

Mr Newcombe said: “He was not only in a position of trust, but was regarded by many of the victims as a friend and his actions constituted a methodical and cynical exploitation of their trust and goodwill.”

Melling, of Smith’s Dock Road, Normanby, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to seven counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, three counts of fraud and two of forgery.

His barrister, Duncan McReddie, said Melling was in “a spiral of expense and debt”

and was unsuitable for such a job, but never used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle. He said: “He accepts that these are mean-spirited crimes against people with whom he had formed relationships.”