Fallen Victorian racing identity Bill Vlahos scammed more than $120 million from members of his punting club through what was essentially a Ponzi scheme, a court has heard.
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Vlahos faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday accused of defrauding hundreds of investors through his scam betting syndicate The Edge between 2008 and 2013.
Prosecutor Lisa Andrews said Vlahos, who is charged with 373 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception, was running “essentially a Ponzi scheme”, mostly via emails.
Named after 1920s Italian swindler Charles Ponzi, the scams use contributions from new investors rather than legitimate profits to keep cash flow going – until people stop joining.
Vlahos’s syndicate had more than 1000 members, including some of Melbourne’s top business people.
Punters believed their money was being placed on horse races and they were earning lucrative annual returns.
“Emails were distributed to the syndicate leaders, prompting them to continue to deposit funds,” Ms Andrews told the court.
“He sent out rather fulsome emails indicating what horses bets had been placed on.
“Then sends another follow up saying, ‘This week we have had a win’.”
But the prosecutor said these were fraudulent promises.
The syndicate collapsed in late 2013 when members wanted to cash out, and some lost more than $1 million.
Vlahos is also accused of attempting to destroy evidence by deleting emails he allegedly knew were likely to be used against him.
But defence lawyer John Saunders said the case lacked “particulars”, such as how the alleged deception occurred on each count.
“We’re entitled to know the basis of each charge,” Mr Saunders said.
“What representation has induced that (payment)? When were they made?”
The court heard the lead detective is working through a 35,000-page brief of the complex case, compiled with the help of forensic accountants.
“He says he’s going through (the brief) at a rate of 500 to 700 pages a day,”Ms Andrews said.
Vlahos previously faced a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit over the punting club’s collapse and he declared bankruptcy in December 2013.
He is due to return to court for a mention in November and a four-week committal hearing has been scheduled for March 2018.