A trusted Perth accountant has been found guilty of stealing millions from a wealthy immigrant couple to subsidise his upmarket lifestyle including the purchase of two homes in exclusive Perth suburbs.
Scott Francis Fleay, 52, had been on trial for the past week accused of channelling more than $4 million from the bank accounts of Ghassan, known as Gus, and Maria Jabado into his own accounts.
It was alleged he then used the money to help buy multi-million dollar properties in Peppermint Grove and Cottesloe.
The District Court was told Fleay was able to access the Jabados’ accounts because they had given him an enduring power of attorney over their financial affairs when they sold the Forrestdale chicken farm they had run for three decades, for $28 million.
However, prosecutors argued Fleay did not have the consent or the permission of either Mr Jabado or Mrs Jabado — who died in 2010 — to take the money.
Fleay denied all 25 charges against him, maintaining he did not have any fraudulent intent in his dealings with the Jabados.
After five hours of deliberations, the jury acquitted him of 13 charges but found him guilty of 12 counts, including the allegations relating to the theft of the money to buy the two properties.
In his evidence, Fleay had said he developed a close relationship with the couple and became like Mr Jabado’s “personal assistant”, giving him advice on business deals and visiting him and his wife at Christmas.
However, he said he now realised in hindsight he had blurred the lines between the professional and the personal, which he accepted was “probably not the best” or “the smartest thing” to have done.
But he maintained the funds he received from the Jabados’ accounts were gifts, loans, payments for “moonlighting” work he had done for them or reimbursements of money he had paid on their behalf.
He also claimed some of the funds were given to Mrs Jabado’s family members, because she had asked him to help them financially, without the knowledge of her husband, because he “absolutely loathed” them.
Allegations driven by ‘vendetta’: defence
That issue, the defence argued, was one of the main reasons for the entire court case, which it claimed was “payback” and “revenge” by Mr Jabado because he believed Fleay had gone behind his back and “betrayed” him.
The court heard Mr Jabado first confronted Fleay with his allegations on Boxing Day in 2010, with defence barrister Simon Freitag SC claiming from that time on, Mr Jabado went on a “vendetta” against his client.
That included allegations Mr Jabado became “threatening and frightening”, including demanding Fleay visit him, then taking his car keys and phone when he arrived and reminding him he had a gun.
Fleay also testified he was not allowed to leave until he had “complied” with Mr Jabado’s demand for him to write “confession” notes, which ended with phrases like “I write this of my own free will”.
There was another note that outlined yearly visits his family were to make to Mr Jabado.
It ended with “Failure to do so will result in termination”.
When asked on the stand what he thought that meant, Fleay replied “I don’t know. I didn’t want to know”.
He also became emotional when testifying about being asked to leave jobs, inlcuding his role as a Peppermint Grove councillor, after his employers received envelopes, sent anonymously, containing allegations against him.
Accountant repaid money
While Mr Jabado denied knowing anything about the envelopes, Mr Frietag claimed that “logically” he was the only person who would have done that.
He also described Mr Jabado at various times as dishonest, controlling, domineering, belligerent, nasty and despicable.
“He was an angry man. You could feel the emotion radiating off him. He was volatile, an absolute livewire. He came across as unpredictable and mercurial.” Mr Freitag told the jury.
He also highlighted that Fleay had repaid all of the money, plus an additional $1 million.
Mr Jabado, who was originally from Lebanon, and his wife, who was of Italian descent, were described in court as not being able to properly understand written English or complex legal documents.
Prosecutor Katrin Robinson said that meant they had placed significant trust in Fleay, which he had “misplaced”.
She said while Mr Jabado was “undoubtedly, somewhat of an unusual character”, he had not given permission for Fleay to use his funds in the way he did.
After the guilty verdicts, Ms Robinson said the state would be seeking an immediate term of imprisonment to be imposed
However she did not oppose Fleay’s release on bail, although Judge Mara Barone warned him he should not take that as any indication of the sentence she will impose.
Fleay is scheduled to be sentenced in December.