Women con elderly man who just "wanted friends", as more victims emerge
Robert Sullivan is an inquisitive fellow.
I was sitting next to him in a Gosford court room and listened in as he asked police about all the different people inside the room. "Who was this person" I"d hear him say. "What was their role?"
They weren"t asked in an offensive or nervous way, but because, I assumed, he"d never been in a court room before.
Robert shouldn"t be here either, but he is because two women who were sitting in the dock fleeced him out of his life savings. He most certainly knew who they were.
Aruna Gould and Maria Anne Virgilli pleaded guilty in Gosford court to dishonestly obtaining thousands of dollars.
"I didn"t realise what it was all about until it was finished. I was just played for a stupid man, that"s all. One played me, then they both played me. Simple as that," he said.
It"s taken a long time to get to this point.
Some time around March 2014, Robert met local women Aruna and Maria.
Robert was at his regular watering hole, the RSL in Wyong, where he liked to have a beer and sometimes play a pokie. They started chatting, and eventually exchanged numbers.
Robert is a retiree. His days of hard work are behind him. He had a healthy amount of money stashed away to enjoy the final chapters of a good life. But what Robert didn"t have much of was company. Like we all do, he craved a few friends. Someone to have a chat to or a laugh with.
It wasn"t long before the phone rang with requests for cash, and without seeing the warning signs, Robert handed it over.
First it was Aruna, then it was Maria, who"d tell Robert, "I need money for this I need money for that. I need money for a cancer operation. Eye operation. Car gotta get fixed rent"s gotta get paid. Meet me here, meet me there."
I then asked Robert what he thought he was getting in return. At which point he paused, looked upwards, and then back to me and replied with a quivering lip, "thought I might have a couple of friends."
Loneliness is a problem for millions of people, particularly the elderly. We hear and read stories almost daily about vulnerable Australians who"ve been ripped off. Robert lost at least $55,000, but police alleged others gave up more - to the same women.
Police allege the women conned at least four elderly men, for a total amount of up to a million dollars. Once our story aired on Wednesday night another alleged victim came forward to Gosford Police with a similar story.
Some of them hold on to hope that they might get some of their money back, but not Robert. He knows he was duped and it"s gone. But he thinks by telling his story other victims may come forward, and that brings a smile to his face.
"Watch out who your so-called friends are before you go and do what I did."
And with that Robert smiles to me, waves to the camera, and shuffles off across the road.
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