Australia 'Con artist of the century': Investors fear Melissa Caddick stole $40m

22:15  04 december  2020
22:15  04 december  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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Melissa Caddick 's husband is caught cruising in his Audi R8 on a suburban street in 2017.

For decades, art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi made millions in a scam that eventually led him to a six-year prison sentence and lawsuits totaling million.

Frantic investors are worried that missing Dover Heights woman Melissa Caddick may have misappropriated between $25 million and $40 million, with one victim entrusting her with $5 million.

a car parked in a parking lot: Husband of missing woman Melissa Caddick, Anthony Koletti, leaves in his blue Audi sportscar. 5 Wallangra Road Dover Heights on 02 December, 2020. Photo: SMH © SMH Husband of missing woman Melissa Caddick, Anthony Koletti, leaves in his blue Audi sportscar. 5 Wallangra Road Dover Heights on 02 December, 2020. Photo: SMH

"She is the con-artist of the century," said one victim whose extended family invested with Ms Caddick. "I was dry-retching when I found out."

Another said, "This lady's robbed from genuine hard-working families that are less wealthy than she is. She's taken from elderly and young people. It's just sick, it's really sick."

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For the past six years, the 49-year-old was allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme whereby money from later investors was used to pay earlier investors. Not that many investors wanted to remove their funds which - on paper - were showing astonishing returns.

Her modus operandi was simple. Investors deposited money into the CBA account of her company Maliver. She then created a bogus CommSec trading account for each new client. CommSec clients have an eight-digit account number. Ms Caddick's fakes had only six digits. Using a cut-and-pasted CommSec logo, at the end of each month she emailed her clients a report.

The shares in which she "invested" her clients' funds never made a loss. Instead, they showed a dazzling return, sometimes up to 30 per cent. Buoyed by the returns, investors put more money in. One told the Herald of an initial million-dollar investment, followed by another $1 million.

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Word spread of Ms Caddick's success. Prospective investors would initially be told "her books were full" but a couple of weeks later she would call to say they were in luck and a place had become available.

While she proposed to prospective investors she would "maximise client outcomes while working within the law," she was operating a financial services business without a licence, which can attract a $22,000 fine and two years' jail. Her alleged misappropriation of funds can attract a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail.

Under the heading "YOUR ADVIER'S [sic] EXPERIENCE & QUALIFICATIONS", Ms Caddick also lied about her achievements, including that she had a Masters of Business and was a certified member of the Financial Planning Association.

Ms Caddick appeared to be doing very well for herself. She favoured designer clothes and shoes by Chanel and Dior which were paired with a jewellery collection estimated to be worth up to $3 million. For her birthday this year, she treated herself to black sapphire and diamond earrings, and a matching necklace estimated to be worth $60,000 purchased from designer Stefano Canturi.

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Apart from her Dover Heights home bought for $6.2 million in 2014, two years later she bought her parents a $2.55 million flat in Edgecliff. More recently she inspected a Rose Bay waterfront but told the agent she only wanted to pay $32 million. It sold for $35 million.

Along with her husband and her teenage son, who attends a local private school, each year the family would spend a month skiing in Aspen in the US.

Although Ms Caddick told people she owned one of the exclusive North of Nell apartments in Aspen, the manager confirmed that for the past five years she had rented in the building, paying $US40,000 ($54,000) for the month.

She boasted to friends that she used private jets to fly to Aspen as well as an array of exotic holiday destinations such as Bora Bora in Polynesia.

One friend who has known her for 20 years said that no one could understand how a simple financial planner lived such an extravagant lifestyle.

"Who takes her personal hairdresser on a business trip to New York?" posed the friend, who added that Ms Caddick had divorced her first husband and married hairstylist Anthony Koletti, 38, who was working at Joh Bailey's salon in Westfield Bondi Junction.

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Mr Koletti, who drives a bright blue $300,000 Audi sports car, is a would-be music producer. More recently he has turned his hand to selling prawns from his home aquarium.

Flanked by police, he said recently of his wife's disappearance: "We've been married seven years, we've known each other a long time … I'm doing everything to help detectives find her. It's really hard. I just want to find her. Right now I'm chasing every lead possible, all I want is to find her."

Supporting Mr Koletti was Melissa's older brother Adam Grimley.

Mr Grimley, who owns 1 per cent of his sister's mansion, has a trust company listed at the Dover Heights address. For years Mr Grimley worked as a consultant in Singapore. In 2016 Mr Grimley, his sister Melissa and her husband Anthony featured on the "monthly recognition" list of star performers selling a diet supplement Isagenix. Mr Grimley also posed for photos showing his 20 kilogram weight loss using the protein shakes.

It is not suggested Mr Koletti or Mr Grimley have been involved in any wrongdoing.

Friends and investors have told the Herald that since August Ms Caddick may have been aware she was under investigation. She had already erased herself from Facebook and Instagram and in September she began an extensive file shredding operation. However, this did not stop her from accepting another $500,000 investment that month.

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The Herald has confirmed that ASIC was alerted to Ms Caddick's alleged wrongdoings when they were contacted some months back by another financial planner who was horrified to discover Ms Caddick was using her licence.

"I found out when a potential client of Melissa's did some due diligence on the documents they were provided. ASIC were immediately notified," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

"This was an enormous shock to me personally and very stressful and upsetting. It continues to be so," she said. While the pair had never worked together they had both been employed at Wise Financial Services around 2003-04.

Police are baffled by the disappearance of Ms Caddick, who vanished more than three weeks ago. She reportedly left the house at 5.30am on November 12 taking nothing with her, not even her mobile phone.

The previous day Australian Federal Police, on behalf of ASIC, had executed search warrants at her Wallangra Road home. Earlier the same week ASIC had obtained orders in the Federal Court freezing Ms Caddick's bank accounts and properties and preventing her from leaving the country.

Investigators are understood to be puzzled by Ms Caddick's choice of a suburban Brisbane accountant who runs his business from home and whose LinkedIn profile includes a stint as CFO of a local smash repairer.

Since her disappearance, NSW police have expressed frustration that one of the items their federal colleagues seized was the CCTV system's hard drive which meant they couldn't ascertain when she left the house.

Ms Caddick lives only 150 metres from the cliffs but none of the extensive cameras or motion detectors along the notorious suicide stretch have shed any light on her movements. Earlier this week police asked motorists for any dashcam footage taken in the area from 6.30pm on Wednesday, November 11 until 9am the next day.

Meanwhile, her anguished investors are desperate for answers. Some are hopeful they will recover some of their investments. Others are more pessimistic. "Money gives you choices in life and right now she has taken away all our choices," said one.

More light may be shone on the mysterious matter when the case of Australia Securities & Investments Commission v Melissa Louise Caddick returns to court on Tuesday.

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