Bill Vlahos built an elaborate betting system for horse racing and it was a multi-million dollar lie.
The Melbourne racing identity used fake betting and results sheets and even invented an international betting expert called “Max” to make sure his 71 victims kept handing over money.
From 2008 until 2013, they thought they were making “spectacular” returns through Vlahos’ punting club The Edge.
Instead Vlahos spent their money on business class flights, credit cards, luxury accommodation and cars, a jacuzzi and other failing business ventures.
His winning betting formula was a fiction. Bets were either not placed or had no resemblance to what Vlahos said he was doing.
The fraudster covered his tracks by pairing his fake figures and manufactured results with actual races and legitimate race information, as well as falsifying bank documents.
International betting agent Daniel Maxwell or “Max”, who Vlahos said he brought on board to increase the club’s access to offshore funds, also did not exist.
The sham collapsed in 2013 before Vlahos was hit with 347 charges totalling more than $120 million in fraudulently obtained funds.
The 54-year-old eventually cut a plea deal. Last year he admitted in the County Court of Victoria to two counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception worth $17,520,225.
His victims have been left financially shattered, with some forced to sell their homes and suffering marriage breakdowns.
“We have to start again as we have lost our house,” one said in a statement to the court.
“We worked hard to get where we were and the financial impact financially has shattered us and changed us from the fun-loving couple who have been married for 30 years to sad, miserable and bitter.”
Another victim likened the moment when he learned Vlahos’ scheme was a sham to “getting pushed off a tall building and while I spiralled downwards, watching the last 25 years of hard work sucked out of my lungs”.
Even as Vlahos’ lies were bringing him undone, he was trying to obtain loans for new business ventures while $80,000 in personal debt.
His lawyer Justin Wheelahan on Tuesday emphasised Vlahos had saved the court significant time by confessing.
His original charges would have had to be split into nine different trials.
Vlahos has been remanded in custody and his plea hearing is expected to continue before Judge Douglas Trapnell on Wednesday.