30 January 2023

Alleged 'bit player' in $70,000 scam of elderly widow granted bail on second try

| Albert McKnight
ACT Law Courts Photo: Michelle Kroll Region Media

Amarish Kumar Patel, 28, has applied for bail for the second time. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A man arrested over the $70,000 scam of an elderly Canberra widow has been granted bail, less than a week after his first failed attempt to be released.

The scam involved a person calling the woman, threatening to harm her if she didn’t pay him and organising a person to pick up cash from her at her home until she ultimately lost $70,000.

It was alleged that when the last pick-up was arranged on 18 January 2023, Amarish Kumar Patel arrived at her home, took an envelop containing $4000 from her and tried to drive away before police swooped in and arrested him.

The 28-year-old, who pleaded not guilty to charges of blackmail, aiding or abetting the making of a demand with a threat and conducting transactions to avoid detection, appeared in court the next day where he lost a bail application and was remanded in custody.

But, less than a week later, he asked the ACT Magistrates Court to grant him bail again on Wednesday (25 January).

The prosecutor told the court the widow had continued to receive calls from the alleged offender involved in the blackmail after Mr Patel had been arrested and police believed the alleged syndicate would continue to try to solicit more money from her.

This alleged offender is believed to live in Queensland, use a network of “runners” and have known Mr Patel for many years.

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The prosecutor said the person was believed to have tried to contact Mr Patel while he had been in custody. It was her understanding the person was unaware of Mr Patel’s incarceration.

She also said the widow had been living in alternative accommodation since Mr Patel’s arrest out of concerns for her safety.

Mr Patel’s lawyer, Michael Kukulies-Smith from Kamy Saeedi Law, argued the blackmail and threat charges against his client were “foredoomed” to fail when there was “no evidence at all” that he was aware of any threat while collecting the money.

His client was an alleged “bit player”, he said, who claimed he had only received several hundred dollars.

He said Mr Patel’s alleged involvement appeared to be walking to a location, collecting an envelope then walking away and it was clear this was on the direction of someone else.

Mr Kukulies-Smith handed up a Canberra Times article regarding his client’s first failed bail application, which mentioned a press release police had made on the case.

He argued police could not claim there was a risk Mr Patel could tip others off when they had already made such a press release and a member of the alleged syndicate could Google his name to read media reports on the case.

Mr Kukulies-Smith also said some form of communication to his client had gone unanswered, so the third person alleged to be involved would have some awareness that something had happened.

The prosecutor, who opposed bail, said as Mr Patel had only been arrested last week there were still a lot of unknowns about his alleged offending and the police investigation was ongoing.

There were clear indications that other players were part of this scamming, she said.

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Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker, who refused the first bail application, said she understood the widow to be “very afraid”.

“This is entirely understandable given the experience that she has had,” the chief magistrate said.

“But there is no basis for me to find that there is a risk of physical harm from this defendant on the evidence before me.”

She also said the only concern for the broader scam was the likelihood that Mr Patel could alert others alleged to be involved to the current proceedings. But the police’s press statement and media reports had done that already, she said.

“Whilst I share a general disquiet as to other actions which could be taken by this scam, it is nothing more than speculation at this stage,” Chief Magistrate Walker said.

She granted bail on conditions including that he live in Harrison, not contact the person in Queensland or the widow and not enter her home suburb. The matter was adjourned to 2 March.

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