NEED vs GREED: Motives behind Northern Rivers’ worst fraud
WHAT motivates a fraudster?
Opportunity, circumstance, or is it just plain greed?
We take a look at some of the court cases covered by The Northern Star in recent years to try to understand the motivation behind the crimes.
From less than $2000 racked up on a lost credit card, to $3.6 million defrauded by a high end real estate agent, the fraudsters' gain was often at the expense and distress of others.
Some fraudsters expressed regret, some tried to blame others, and some just defied belief.
Here are six prominent cases The Northern Star has reported on.
$2000 racked up on stolen credit card
A backpacker admitted during sentencing it was a "really stupid thing" to use a credit card he found at a hotel but blamed being drunk for not making responsible decisions at the time.
Alexandre Lavoie Raymond Blanchard appeared before Byron Bay Local Court in January, where he pleaded guilty to larceny for the value less than $2000 and dishonestly obtaining property by deception.
The court heard that after finding an ANZ bank card while out drinking with friends, the French-Canadian backpacker used the card to make $954 worth of purchases, spending money on alcohol, food and groceries, clothing, and a skateboard.
When the card stopped working, Mr Blanchard threw it away on the ground.
"It was really hard to not say no (to my friends at the bar) after the card worked," Mr Blanchard said.
"As a poor traveller and a young student, I saw the opportunity to do groceries and do some shopping.
"I thought I was not affecting anybody … but now I know it hurt someone."
Despite Mr Blanchard being intoxicated at the time, Magistrate Michael Dakin said he "knew" what he was doing by making "many transactions".
"I look at the items you purchased and other people who benefited using this card," Mr Dakin said.
The court heard Mr Blanchard said he'd apologised to the owner of the bank card and had also returned all the goods purchased, except the alcohol consumed.
Mr Blanchard was fined $500 and given an 18 months community corrections order.
Real estate agent's fall from grace
WHEN Nicolette Van Wijngaarden, 45, was jailed in November after misusing $3.6m of customers' money, it marked the low point of a staggering fall from grace.
At its height, Wijngaarden's high-end real estate agency, Unique Estates, was an agent to the stars and she was living a high-flying lifestyle.
included frequent jet setting, Veuve Clicquot champagne "that flowed like a fountain all night" at her engagement party and luxury helicopter trips to events.
When the fraud was discovered, NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rose Webb described the case as the most significant of its kind in NSW.
While Wijngaarden blamed stress and the pressure to keep the business afloat as the reasons behind the fraud, others claimed an excessive lifestyle was to blame.
Van Wijngaarden's barrister Frank Coyne said: "It was not coloured by anything like gambling or drugs, it was short-term and it was going to be made up".
Agent Grant Dale there were signs the business may have been suffering from financial pressure, but he believed Ms Wijngaarden had shown a "blatant disregard" for what was most people's biggest asset in their lives - their home.
Another source said it was "all about keeping up appearances".
"It was complete excess in everything … except running a proper business," the person said.
"I think what overtook her was absolute greed," they said.
Wijngaarden pleaded guilty to two fraud charges in June 2019 and was sentenced to three years and six months jail. She will be eligible for parole after serving one year and six months.
During her sentencing, Judge John Pickering said: "She had a lifestyle many envied, of high profile and travel."
In trying to cover up her fraud, the daughter of a former Lismore mayor tried to blame an employee for the crime.
Belinda Catherine Nott was convicted over obtaining financial advantage by deception in Lismore Local Court and handed a 15-month suspended jail sentence in November 2017.
The court found in June 2016, Nott had falsified $5720 in payment receipts to a Lismore advertising business.
Nott on June 9, 2016 claimed to have paid the money via a cash deposit but the money had never been deposited and the receipts were found to be fake.
During the police investigation, Nott had tried to shift the blame to her employee for failing to lodge the deposits, but the court rejected her claim.
At the time of sentencing, Judge Laura Wells said it was a "quite serious episode" for the mother of four as "some planning and consideration must have gone into her acts".
Judge Wells said she found Nott's evidence was "simply not acceptable, and not believable".
However, last June Nott was sentenced to a 15-month intensive corrections order for breaching the suspended fraud sentence.
A BEXHILL woman who fraudulently cashed cheques belonging to an elderly woman was forced to repay the $8500 she stole.
Rhonda Margaret Taylor, also known as Rhonda Tidesell, was convicted of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage or causing disadvantage by deception in Lismore Local Court in September 2019.
The 47-year-old had on two separate occasions written and cashed two cheques not belonging to her at the Bank of Queensland in Lismore in October 2018.
Court documents revealed Taylor had used two cheques belonging to her 87-year-old landlord, who Taylor had helped the elderly woman "with various domestic duties".
Taylor on two separate occasions had written and collected $6500 and $2000 respectively from the Lismore branch.
However, suspicion was raised about her legitimacy when on a third occasion, she presented a cheque valuing $2500 and was refused service by the teller.
The 87-year-old woman contacted police when she found her cheque book in a different spot in her house.
Taylor was sentenced with a 15-month Intensive Correction Order, which includes 150 hours of community service and ordered to repay the $8500 to the victim.
Melissa Irene Quinn, a mother-of-four from Casino, was jailed over faking multiple bouts of cancer to obtain more than $47,000.
Money raised by the Casino RSM Club and a GoFundMe account helped Quinn travel to the USA for "treatment", which in November 2104, she claimed was a success.
However, police alleged the trip was purely for travel, rather than the "proton therapy" she claimed was her only hope.
In October 2015, Quinn was working as the Mid North Coast development manager for Cricket NSW when she claimed the cancer was back, first saying she had chronic myeloid leukaemia, then soon afterwards, ovarian cancer.
After numerous fundraisers were held, the deception was uncovered when Cricket NSW asked for a doctor's certificate "to ensure she was fit to continue working". A staff member questioned the document's authenticity and police were alerted.
Upon being arrested, Quinn made "full and frank admissions to lying about all forms of cancer" and told police the lies had gotten "out of control".
Police say Quinn's actions were a "serious breach of community standards" which could have "serious ramifications by causing people to stop contributing to genuine medical fundraisers".
Quinn was sentenced to two years prison with a nine-month non-parole period in November 2018.
She unsuccessfully appealed the sentencing decision in November 2018, where Judge Laura Wells found Quinn's "expression of remorse made to police in the interview" was "sadly, to some extent undone by the change of the account which she gave to expert witnesses".
Quinn was due for parole in August 2019, and has been ordered to repay the fraudulently raised funds.
Woman stole $180,000 from employer
In June, a woman was sentenced to two years jail for stealing $180,000 from her employer.
Between 2012 and 2019, Tracey Louise Hughes made 330 fraudulent transfers to her account from her employer, Moon Street Medical Centre.
The average transaction was about $542 into her personal account.
Judge Jeffery McLennan said the facts showed Hughes had abused her employer's trust, while she was employed as practice manager and had primary responsibility for the business accounts.
"While not especially sophisticated, it was clearly planned," Judge McLennan said.
"She abused and betrayed the trust shown to her by her employers."
Judge McLennan said Hughes had started to transfer the money in 2012 when she fell behind in her mortgage payments and rates, but then began to gamble the money more earnestly in 2016 and 2017.
In her statement to the court, Hughes said she felt "embarrassed" and was ashamed of her actions.
"I was unfaithful to my employer, they trusted me, and I took advantage of it," she said.
"They would be hurt and shocked. I regret it every day."
While Judge McLennan said the full amount lost to the business may be "irretrievable", he commended Hughes' efforts to repay the money owed to her former employer.
Through the sale of her North Lismore home, she was able to repay $50,000 to Moon Street Medical Centre, and indicated she intended to withdraw her superannuation, estimated to be about $60,000, in a few years when she was eligible to do so.
She also planned to repay the debt by paying $100 a week from any wage she receives.
Hughes was convicted and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 18 months.