A man has been arrested over the sophisticated $70,000 scam of an elderly Canberra widow, which police fear could be part of a larger, international crime syndicate.
In November 2022, the woman was called by a man claiming to be from the “NCA”, which she believed to be the National Crime Authority, who told her that she owed his organisation $10,000.
This man, who called himself ‘Jerry’, said if she didn’t pay up he would send someone to “knock her off”, court documents claim.
The woman was scared someone would try to kill her, so she withdrew the money in cash and ‘Jerry’ arranged for a person to collect it at her house.
From then on, ‘Jerry’ called her almost every day to demand money and she continued to hand it over to the person who arrived to pick it up, believing she would be in danger if she didn’t comply with the demands. She ultimately lost $70,000.
In January 2023, when the woman pleaded to ‘Jerry’ that she didn’t have any more money, he told her that she needed to sell her house to get it otherwise she would be in trouble.
‘Jerry’ made her begin the process of selling her house, part of which involved him getting her to tell a real estate agent that he was her son, allowing him to speak to the agent under that guise.
He also told the woman to borrow money from friends so she could pay him. One of these friends contacted her real sons and her sons took their mother to the police.
‘Jerry’ continued to call the woman even when she was at the police station. Police recorded their conversation when she rang back, during which ‘Jerry’ asked why she hadn’t picked up and said he had sent someone to her house to check on her.
On Wednesday (18 January), ‘Jerry’ arranged to have $4000 collected from the woman. When 28-year-old Amarish Kumar Patel arrived at her home, he allegedly took an envelop containing the money from her and tried to drive away, but police swooped in and arrested him.
“The defendant immediately began stating that he did not know anything and that he was just the courier,” police claim in the documents.
The police also claim that when Mr Patel was interviewed, he admitted collecting $7000 from the woman on 17 December 2022 before depositing it in various banks.
He was assisted by a Hindi interpreter when duty lawyer Steph Corish applied for him to be granted bail in the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday (19 January), saying he disputed any wrongdoing.
She argued the alleged extent of his role and knowledge he had of the scam was unclear. For instance, it was not clear if it was alleged he had been ‘Jerry’ or had been the person who had repeatedly gone to the woman’s home.
Also, she said the woman had given a vague description of the person who visited her home, saying it had been an Indian man with short black hair. This could apply to a very large number of people, Ms Corish said.
Mr Patel claimed he had been in India until late last year, an alibi that Ms Corish said could be easily investigated.
Prosecutor Mark Wadsworth, who opposed bail, said these allegations would likely lead to Mr Patel’s personal migration visa being cancelled whether or not the case was proved.
Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said her greatest concern when it came to debating whether to release him on bail was the likelihood of him interfering with evidence.
She agreed the extent of his alleged role was unclear, but also said “he is clearly implicated in what is commonly known as a scam”.
She said there was “good evidence” of him handling the $4000 that was given to him at the woman’s home, where he had apparently gone “at the request of a friend of a friend”.
“The nature of the offending alleged reflects a very significant risk to members of our community,” Chief Magistrate Walker said.
Mr Patel became agitated when she refused bail and tried to make comments to the court, but he was encouraged to remain silent.
The Indian man, who lives in Harrison with his wife and works as a courier and cleaner, pleaded not guilty to charges of blackmail, making a demand with a threat to kill and conducting transactions to avoid detection.
He was remanded in custody and the matter was adjourned to 2 March.
Earlier, ACT Policing said police believed the incident could be part of a larger international crime syndicate and investigations were ongoing.