Three UK and Irish citizens are accused of ripping $425,000 off trusting elderly targets who lived alone, in a con job operating throughout Melbourne between March and July.
Joseph Ball, Michael Dooley and John Dooley – not believed to be related – are accused of running a sophisticated “Irish roofing scam” in some of Melbourne’s richest suburbs, including Elwood, Sandringham and South Yarra.
The three were remanded, following their arrest on Wednesday.
Mr Ball sought bail in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday but the case remained part-heard. He will face court again on July 27.
Prosecutor Kris Paganis alleged the scam was a “sophisticated set-up” targeting the vulnerable elderly, with some of the victims in their 90s.
Police say 15 victims have been found but they expect to uncover more as investigations continue.
Victoria Police Detective Acting Sergeant Steve Sinclair alleged in some cases the men would apply for work on website Oneflare but in most instances they would cold approach their targets and claim they had noticed their roofs needed work.
The minimal initial quote would blow out into tens of thousands of dollars with the elderly victims feeling pressured to pay up, Mr Sinclair alleged.
The court heard the accused conmen hired three Nepalese men who had zero qualifications or training in roofing as subcontractors, and told them to “get up on roofs, make noise”.
Mr Sinclair said the Nepalese men told police the three men threatened them and sent them intimidating photos of themselves outside where they lived when they didn’t show up to work.
The court heard police obtained CCTV footage of one of the men appearing to grab and shake one of the Nepalese workers.
“They received threats that if they didn’t turn up to work they could ‘do anything to them’,” the police detective said.
Mr Ball’s defence counsel Timothy Fitzpatrick said the Nepalese men could have lied “because they’re foreign nationals” and could be “kicked out of the country” if convicted of crimes.
The three men allegedly pressured one elderly victim to withdraw money from his superannuation to pay them tens of thousands of dollars for non-existent work.
They are accused of telling an alleged victim they needed to see her bank card, taking photos of it, and withdrawing $36,060 from her account for their own use.
In another case they were allegedly in the house with a target who was logged into internet banking. When he walked away from the computer they are accused of brazenly transferring tens of thousands of dollars to themselves.
An alleged victim innocently sent them a photo of his driver’s licence for identification and they are accused of registering vehicles they used as part their criminal activities in his name.
Amounts individual alleged victims handed over to the men include $8000, $25,000, $102,000, $18,000, $23,700, $2300, $19,000, and $127,000.
In some cases the alleged victims had to pay for their roofs to be fixed by legitimate tradespeople after they had been scammed as the accused conmen actually created damage in the course of their fake work.
Mr Ball and his wife are both unemployed yet the court heard they live in a $600-a-week apartment, both wear $50,000 Rolex watches, and own high-end goods by Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
Mr Sinclair alleged a search of their apartment turned up $37,600 cash stuffed into a suitcase.
“My client’s parents are of some means over in the UK … they have offered to assist my client financially while he is in Australia,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
The court also heard allegations of Mr Ball’s involvement in fake passports.
Another man allegedly left the country with Mr Ball’s Australian passport earlier this year.
Mr Ball managed to enter Australia from the UK in September 2019 without any record of him exiting the country beforehand, Mr Sinclair told the court.
Each accused faces 16 charges with counts of obtaining property by deception, attempting to obtain property by deception, and dealing in the proceeds of a crime.
Three companies registered in the names of the men or the Nepalese workers are alleged to be involved, called Approved Contractors, Five Star Roofing, and Four Seasons, all registered with ASIC between January and May this year.
Michael Dooley and John Dooley did not apply for bail.