‘Boiler room’ scam: Staff plead guilty

Trio knew work was il­le­gal, court told

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - NEWS - AN­NIE PERETS an­nie.perets@news.com.au

A GRAPHIC de­signer cre­ated fake web­sites and on­line tes­ti­monies for a bo­gus com­puter soft­ware com­pany to scam $2.16 mil­lion out of vic­tims across Aus­tralia.

Pierre Joseph Agha­jani was con­tracted by a Gold Coast­based com­pany and knew what he was do­ing was il­le­gal, a court was told.

The 31-year-old was sen­tenced in the South­port Mag­is­trates Court yes­ter­day af­ter he pleaded guilty to pro­duc­ing fraud­u­lent on­line ma­te­rial.

The boiler room-type scam, which fea­tured a call cen­tre based in Surfers Par­adise trad­ing un­der Fi­nan­cial En­deav­ours, sold in­vest­ment soft­ware pack­ages tar­get­ing cus­tomers through cold calls. More than 200 dis­sat­is­fied clients com­plained to po­lice be­tween Jan­uary 1, 2014 and Au­gust 16, 2015.

The syn­di­cate’s for­mer re­cep­tion­ist Chloe Rose Podger, 28, and cus­tomer ser­vice of­fi­cer, Thomas Philipp Pfaff, 53, were also sen­tenced yes­ter­day af­ter plead­ing guilty to pro­duc­ing fraud­u­lent ma­te­rial.

Crown pros­e­cu­tor Gary Churchill said fab­ri­cated sales fig­ures, awards and re­views were cre­ated to help mar­ket the soft­ware pack­ages.

Podger was the re­cep­tion­ist and hu­man re­sources man­ager who cre­ated brochures us­ing fake data, and screened in­com­ing phone calls. She set up vir­tual of­fices and wrote scripts for sale con­sul­tants, the court was told. Pfaff helped with cre­at­ing mar­ket­ing con­tent.

The three were charged in Au­gust, 2015 af­ter a joint Crime and Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion and Queens­land Po­lice sting.

Agha­jani and Podger were long-term em­ploy­ees of the op­er­a­tion’s al­leged lead­ers, hav­ing pre­vi­ously un­der­taken le­git­i­mate and le­gal work with them, in­clud­ing for so­lar in­stal­la­tion and mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies, the court was told. Both knew the soft­ware com­pany was a fraud.

Podger had been em­ployed by the same peo­ple since she was 18 and was aged 22-24 when the of­fences took place.

Agha­jani had worked with the al­leged prin­ci­ple of­fend­ers since he was 20 and was aged 25-26 when he know­ingly made false mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial.

The al­leged prin­ci­ple of­fend­ers were not named in court yes­ter­day.

De­fence bar­ris­ter Jef­frey Hunter said the pair had just been fol­low­ing in­struc­tions from their boss.

De­fence bar­ris­ter Sally Robb said Pfaff took on the work out of des­per­a­tion to make a liveli­hood.

“He had no con­cept of the amount of money be­ing brought in,” Ms Robb said.

Pfaff found a new job about two months af­ter his ar­rest.

Podger had com­pleted a masters de­gree since her ar­rest and was now a hu­man re­source man­ager for a na­tion­wide brand, while Agha­jani has opened an au­to­mo­tive busi­ness with his cousin.

None of the three of­fend­ers re­ceived any ex­tra fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit other than be­ing paid for the tasks they were em­ployed for.

Podger had been left with a hefty debt from her work stint with the em­ployer be­cause her tax was never prop­erty de­ducted and she was not paid su­per­an­nu­a­tion.

Mag­is­trate Kay Philip­son sen­tenced Pfaff to two-and-ahalf years in jail, wholly suspended for five years.

Podger was sen­tenced to 18 months in jail, wholly suspended for three years.

Agha­jani was sen­tenced to 12 months in jail, wholly suspended for two years.

Pierre Joseph Agha­jani leaves the South­port Mag­is­trates Court.

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