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Ex-ANZ financial adviser Melinda Scott jailed until 2018 for 22-year, $6m fraud

 Downing Centre District Court, Sydney. Photo: Daniel Munoz Downing Centre District Court, Sydney. Photo: Daniel Munoz
For 22 years Sydney financial adviser Melinda Scott siphoned millions of dollars out of her clients' superannuation funds – spending the money on property, family holidays and private school fees.

On Tuesday the 50-year-old from Lilli Pilli cried quietly in the Downing Centre District Court as she was sentenced to spend at least the next three years and 10 months in jail.

The court heard that, between 1989 and 2012, Scott defrauded 163 clients – some of them her friends – of $5.97 million through 308 fraudulent transactions.

After payments to clients – effectively made to keep the scam going – Scott pocketed $2.986 million, all of which was returned to clients by the ANZ Bank after she was convicted.

The court heard that, as the director of her own financial advisory business, Scott came to look after hundreds of ANZ Bank customers through one of its subsidiaries, Millenium3.

She used a number of carefully planned strategies to siphon off the money while ensuring the victims were none the wiser.

In some cases she told the clients she was rolling over or consolidating their superannuation funds, when in fact she was moving the money into accounts controlled by her.

She also altered cheques provided by her clients and forged their signatures on forms authorising the transfer of funds without their knowledge or permission.

Scott then covered up the fraudulent transfers by changing her clients registered addresses to a single, secret PO Box so that they never received notifications that their funds were rapidly depleting.

When people did request access to their money she would take funds from another client in order to pay them.

"It was a ponzi-style scheme – in effect Ms Scott was robbing Peter to pay Paul," Judge Woodburne said.

"She could have ceased her offending behaviour at any time. But she chose to enjoy the benefits of the money … to maintain her lifestyle."

The court heard that Scott used the money to purchase and renovate property, which she later claimed was driven by her desire to maintain her relationship with her husband.

It was also used to pay three sets of school fees for a Sydney private school, to pay her business expenses, and to take her family on a number of holidays.

When the Australian Securities and Investment Commission began investigating her affairs in 2012, Scott effectively confessed, telling investigators about fraudulent activity they were not yet aware of.

She pleaded guilty to seven charges when the matter first came to court in December 2013, earning a 25 per cent reduction in her jail sentence.

When asked to explain the two-decade-long fraud, the 50-year-old said that she had set up her financial advisory business at age 25 without planning and quickly went into debt.

"The offender said she felt quite unable to get off the merry-go-round, and that she honestly believed that she would be able to repay the money," Judge Woodburne said.

"She said [as] she was brought up she had never been allowed to fail and felt she couldn't admit defeat or ask family members for a loan.

"She said she didn't mean to hurt anyone … and just wanted a harmonious life by providing a stable home for her family to live in."

But Judge Woodburne only partially accepted this explanation, revealing that Scott had been convicted of an offence of fraud involving forgery prior to the current set of offences.

She had been banned from providing financial advice, and it was when this was altered to exclude advice regarding superannuation that she had begun her 22 years of fraud.

The 50-year-old was able to get away with the crimes for so long, Judge Woodburne said, because her clients rarely checked their superannuation funds and due to a lack of scrutiny by the banks.

Scott was sentenced to six years and three months in jail and will be eligible for parole on December 9, 2018.

ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said Scott's actions were "deliberate and deceitful and undermined the absolute trust placed in her by clients".

"Her jailing today should send a message that acts of fraud will not be tolerated by the community," Mr Kell said.

Author: Paul Bibby
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald


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