How fraud victim was sucked into $1.6 million scam

SOME CLOSURE: Fraud victim Alfred Niehaus leaves Maroochydore Court House.
SOME CLOSURE: Fraud victim Alfred Niehaus leaves Maroochydore Court House. Warren Lynam

FRAUD victim Alfred Niehaus took little solace from seeing the financial planner who roped him into a $1.6 million scam sent to jail.

Mr Niehaus, 77, from Peregian Springs, was one of 12 victims from the Sunshine Coast and Mackay who trusted disgraced advisor Shaun Daniel Fitzgerald with their money in 2010.

A number of those victims were at Maroochydore District Court on Monday to see Fitzgerald, 43, jailed for eight-and-a-half years.

His barrister Stephen Courtney applied to have the sentence adjourned for two to three weeks so Fitzgerald's partner Bodhi Hunter could move from where they had been living in Fortitude Valley to the Sunshine Coast.

Mr Courtney said his partner would become a carer for Fitzgerald's mother, who had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

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However, Judge Gary Long refused the application, noting that Fitzgerald's fraud matters had been around for "a long time".

The court heard Fitzgerald had convinced his clients to give him amounts ranging between $15,000 and $400,000 to invest in an "exclusive opportunity" with Woodside Petroleum and Channel 7 shares.

He told them they would get good returns in a matter of weeks.

But the money he took from the 12 clients between January and July 2010 was not invested, instead being channelled into Fitzgerald's "growing financial crisis".

Crown prosecutor Greg Cummings said Fitzgerald had developed a strong relationship with his long-term clients, many of whom treated him as a friend.

Mr Cummings said Fitzgerald had previously been a successful and respected financial advisor, having built up a customer base of about 180 clients.

"Mr Fitzgerald systematically exploited that trust," Mr Cummings said.

Fitzgerald took a total of $1,645,500, of which $238,536 was repaid to one customer.

There was a total of $1,406,564 outstanding.

Mr Cummings said some clients were given cheques to repay the money only to have those cheques cancelled or transactions reversed some time later.

He said one couple had borrowed money against their home to invest with Fitzgerald.

Mr Cummings said Fitzgerald was now bankrupt and no more money would be repaid.

He said some money was utilised to service debts but also "to maintain a lifestyle of some exorbitance which was feeding a financial crisis to some extent".

That lifestyle included travel to the United Kingdom.

The court heard Fitzgerald had made a "disastrous decision" to buy expensive property in Airlie Beach.

Mr Courtney said his client was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in July 2010.

He said his client was "morbidly optimistic" he could have been able to liquidate assets to recoup what he had paid for the Airlie Beach properties.

Mr Courtney said Fitzgerald had seen a number of his victims in the court precinct yesterday and that had brought home to him the gravity of what he had done.

He said all but $40,000 of the money had been obtained in a two- month period.

Judge Long noted the matters had been listed for trial four times since Fitzgerald was initially charged.

He sentenced Fitzgerald to eight years and six months in prison.

Fitzgerald will be eligible for parole after three years.

He waved to his partner before walking from the court towards the police cells.

Outside court, Mr Niehaus would not disclose how much money he lost but said it was "a lot".

The 77-year-old retired clinical pathologist said Fitzgerald had come across as a "nice young fellow".

"I trusted him," Mr Niehaus said.

He said he would have preferred a longer jail sentence.

"At least a little bit of justice has been done."

Topics:  court financial planner fraud investment mackay maroochydore sunshine coast

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