Richard Rufus: The Bankrupt Premier League Footballer Jailed Over a £15m Pyramid Scheme
Richard Rufus: Football Icon Turned Scam Artist
The Sporting Blog has covered countless stories of footballers who turned to crime, but there aren’t many tales of players cheating friends, family and fellow professionals out of millions of pounds…
But that’s exactly what Richard Rufus did! Crippy Cooke tells the full story.
His former manager regarded Rufus as one of the best players not to receive an England cap while supporters hailed his charity work to help disadvantaged groups, but it was uncovered that he abused his position to enrich himself.
So, what on earth happened?
Academy Boy to Charlton Legend
Rufus was born only three miles from Charlton’s stadium, The Valley, in a South-East London borough called Lewisham. Like Nathan Ashton, he joined the Addicks as a teenager in the early 1990s and was on the first team by 1994.
The centre-back made his Charlton debut against Derby County on October 29, coming off the bench as a 19-year-old - the Addicks drew the game 2-2.
Rufus would be given many opportunities that season and he quickly became a mainstay after impressive performances.
1994/95 (Division One): 28 appearances
1995/96 (Division One): 41 appearances
Rufus was a first-team regular in his first full season at Charlton, featuring in 41 of 46 games and leading the Addicks to the playoffs.
Charlton missed out on promotion, but Rufus was named in the PFA Team of the Year while being called up by England to represent the U21s.
1996/97 (Division One): 34 appearances
1997/98 (Division One): 42 appearances
Charlton were miles off the pace in 1996/97, finishing in the bottom half of the table, but they turned things around a season later.
The Addicks reached the playoffs and Rufus scored in the final against Sunderland to take the game to extra time. Charlton would win on penalties to earn promotion to the top-flight.
1998/99 (Premiership): 27 appearances
1999/00 (Division One): 44 appearances
Rufus’ first season in the Premiership wasn’t great after being sent off on his top-flight debut while missing many games due to injury, so it’s little wonder Charlton were relegated.
They would immediately bounce back in 2000, however, and Rufus would be named in the PFA Team of the Year for a second time.
2000/01 (Premiership): 32 appearances
2001/02 (Premiership): 10 appearances
2002/03 (Premiership): 30 appearances
Charlton were stable in the Premiership for many years, but injuries took their toll on Rufus.
He would go under the knife to fix a knee problem that caused him to miss 42 games over three seasons, but it was unsuccessful.
The centre-back was forced to hang up his boots in 2004 with 288 league appearances for the Addicks. He spent the 2003/04 campaign on the treatment table.
Failed England Aspirations
Rufus never made a cap for England at senior level, only playing six times for the U21s.
He had the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher and Gareth Southgate for competition in the early 00s, but those who played with Rufus believe he was on England’s radar.
Gary Rowett, a former teammate, told London News Online in 2019 that Rufus was regularly scouted by England in the past. He said:
“I know for a fact that there were three or four of us (Rufus and Luke Young) who were being watched quite regularly.”
Former manager Alan Curbishley felt the Three Lions missed a trick by not giving Rufus a chance. He told BBC Sport after the centre-back’s retirement:
“He was a model professional and a credit to the club. He will be sorely missed. In my opinion, Richard is the best player in recent seasons not to gain an England cap.”
Rufus’ stock was high after 2000, but his injury problems depleted his playing time, hampering his chances of a call-up. Ferdinand and Campbell became a staple at the back for England too.
In 2005, Rufus was voted as Charlton's greatest-ever defender by supporters.
He returned to Charlton post-retirement to become their academy coach and ambassador before being inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2013. Rufus was a Charlton legend in every sense of the word.
However, the truth was unravelled just two years later…
In 2015, Rufus was found to have overseen a Ponzi investment scheme worth £16m.
He was branded a fraudster by a specialist civil court judge while being restricted from borrowing money and working in business for the next 15 years by bankruptcy registrar Clive Jones.
The investigation also revealed Rufus was declared bankrupt in December 2013 after a failed £6 million investment which cost his church £5m.
Rufus’ scheme had more than 100 investors, including friends, family and church members who trusted him.
Rufus had taken more than £3m to fund his own lifestyle while leaving investors £8m in the hole. Not surprisingly, the 48-year-old left his roles with Charlton’s academy and the Community Trust.
Jones said Rufus accepted more than £16m from investors between 2007 and 2011 without authorisation and while being in breach of financial regulations.
He lost £5m+ through currency-exchange trading and used money from investors to pay others, claiming those transactions were profit.
Rufus was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on his birthday (January 12) in 2023 after being found guilty of fraud, money laundering and carrying out a regulated activity without authorisation.
Rufus claimed to be a successful foreign exchange trader and convinced people to invest in a ‘low-risk’ scheme that was no different to a typical Ponzi or pyramid scam.
He used the names of professional footballers to convince people of his scheme’s legitimacy and preyed upon those who trusted him for his own financial gain.
The court heard that Rufus promised some investors returns of up to 60%, creating documents with fake numbers to back up his claims.
The 48-year-old also lied about working with top investment banks while saying star footballers like Rio Ferdinand were investors.
While victims were suffering the loss of life-changing money, the former defender funnelled millions to himself.
Joey D’Urso of The Athletic noted Rufus bought an expensive South London house in a gated community, a Bentley car and a Rolex watch among other things with their money.
He will serve half his sentence behind bars before being released on licence. Considering the respect he’d earned as a star footballer, few could have imagined Rufus’ life would go in this direction.
Picture credits: Transfermarkt