More than 150 people were duped into paying millions of dollars for sports betting and investment software they thought would earn them tens of thousands a year.
But instead they were scammed “by a sophisticated criminal enterprise which at its heart was designed to make money by dishonest means,” a court has heard.
Scammers Irishman Stiofan Ceitinn, brothers Aaron Colin East and Daniel Alan East and salesperson Theresa Faye Merlehan were sentenced in the Brisbane District Court on Oct. 15 after admitting to their involvement.
The three men ran the cold-call scam operating from Gold Coast boiler rooms that duped 160 people out of $2.1 million over 20 months from January 2014.
“The conduct of the entity was predatory and well organised,” Judge Vicki Loury said in sentencing the men on Oct. 15.
They used “much subterfuge,” giving misleading information to ASIC, setting up fake websites for fictitious competitors and producing brochures with fabricated figures.
Call centre staff used false names and at times pretended to be in an office in Adelaide that did not exist.
Those who bought the software were convinced they could make up to $100,000 a year. But the products couldn’t make anywhere near the level of profit the owners claimed.
While the victims lost money, Aaron East made $301,000 in the 20 months and his brother $282,000, while Ceitinn pocketed $230,000.
But there was only $17,000 in the bank when the enterprise was shut down and the scammers haven’t offered to compensate the victims.
“They (the victims) speak of, not only of the financial loss they have sustained, which included for some the loss of savings and the loss of superannuation, but feelings of worthlessness that they have felt as a consequence of being duped,” Judge Loury said.
Outside the court, Detective Sergeant Justin Suffolk said the scammers were ingenious in how they manipulated the internet to thwart people’s due diligence.
“Wherever anyone would go to get checks and balances done they had their own fake presence,” he told reporters.
“They dominated the internet with their presence and everything you got was an echo of what they wanted you to hear.”
Suffolk said the victims weren’t to blame for getting sucked in.
“I think I would have bought it myself if I got the phone call,” Suffolk said. “That’s how good they were.”
Ceitinn, 38, and Aaron East, 41, were each sentenced to eight years in jail and will be eligible for parole after serving two-and-a-half years.
Daniel East, 38, was handed a six-year jail term and will be eligible for parole after 20 months.
Merlehan, 64, was given a three-year prison sentence, fully suspended for three years, for her involvement in the scheme for about two months in 2015.
It is estimated she earned up to $20,000 working for the business as a salesperson after discovering it was a criminal enterprise.
By Cheryl Goodenough