A Melbourne woman has pleaded guilty to participating in an international fraud syndicate that stole millions of dollars from retirement accounts and stock portfolios and laundered the proceeds through the purchase of diamonds.
Jasmine Vella-Arpaci, 24, is the only co-conspirator charged in the scam, which resulted in the gang receiving nearly $3 million from retirement accounts and $238,000 through stock trading.
They also intended to withdraw $1.8 million from pension funds and $5.7 million in stocks. The funds were later laundered through Hong Kong, with Vella-Arpaci earning a portion of the proceeds in bitcoin.
Vella-Arpaci engaged in identity theft and phishing attempts to obtain people’s personal information and gain access to their accounts.
The stolen funds were later transferred to a series of illegally obtained Westpac debit cards and sent to a Hong Kong-based syndicate member identified as “H”.
There, a guy known as “The Swiper” acquired diamonds and other jewelry to help launder money. These products were then sold before Vella-Arpaci was compensated in bitcoin for her share of the profits.
One co-conspirator commented in a Telegram conversation: “That’s sneaky.” “Lol, I know that well,” Vella-Arpaci responded.
On Wednesday, the 24-year-old appeared in Victoria County Court and pleaded guilty to three counts: two counts of conspiracy to deceive and one count of conspiracy to deal in the proceeds of crime.
Jasmine Vella-Arpaci pleaded guilty in Victoria County Court on Wednesday. CREDIT: AAP
In a statement in court, an elderly woman stated that she was catapulted into trying to protect her family’s business throughout 2019 after a phone call from a Gold Coast stockbroker alerted them to the attempted sale of his actions.
He said what followed was a system that worked against his family, leaving them feeling invisible and powerless as they tried to regain control of their company’s information.
The woman said, “I felt like every step I took was leading to more punishment and nothing was stopping the big highway the scammers were speeding down.”
“That year was scary and exhausting, but the education as to why Australia has such an incredible amount of money being lost every year to scammers.
In a separate statement, a couple in their 80s and 90s described the helplessness they felt upon discovering they had been cheated on.
The theft of a woman’s $500,000 savings occurred just weeks before her retirement.
Vella-Arpaci was arrested at Melbourne airport on April 30, 2019, after returning from a trip to Turkey, as part of a joint investigation by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The year-long scam came to an end shortly after that.
A search of his residence revealed a mobile phone and laptop on which hundreds of Telegram conversations had been saved, as well as other incriminating evidence, including 1,400 pieces of paper, including passports, driver’s license, bank cards and Medicare cards.
An investigation revealed that Vella-Arpaci had used the dark web to exchange identity documents, such as passports and driver’s licenses, which were then digitally manipulated to modify victim information and gain access to valuable accounts in 2018 and 2019.
As part of the syndicate’s activity, he devised a phishing scheme to harvest people’s identification documents by producing Google ads posing as superfund login pages.
In certain cases, superfund balances were transferred from one fund to another before being fully withdrawn, as the group thought some funds had less rigorous withdrawal procedures.
The 24-year-old received nearly $147,000 for her part in the fraud, which was sent to her bitcoin accounts. There were a total of 26 victims, with about $3 million stolen from retirement accounts and $238,000 in Commbank and Lendlease stock illegally obtained and sold. More than $2.5 million of this amount was laundered through Hong Kong.
Before Vella-Arpaci was arrested, the syndicate tried unsuccessfully to obtain an additional $1.80 million in superfund funds and $5.75 million in stock.
There have been no other arrests.
The procedure will resume on November 30. Vella-Arpaci remains on bond.