How an adviser gambled $3.4m of his clients’ cash

Gavin Fineff fraud gambling

27 April 2023
| By James Mitchell |
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Financial planner, Gavin Fineff, used his position as a trusted adviser to swindle a dozen victims and feed an insatiable gambling addiction that ultimately landed him in prison last week.

Fineff started out as a paraplanner for Sydney-based non-aligned advice practice Sentinel Wealth back in 2010. By 2014, he was a financial adviser and would go on to obtain a master’s degree in financial planning and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) from the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA).

According to court documents, he was a senior financial planner by 2019, earning $160,000 a year plus a performance bonus. That year, Sentinel’s managing director, Justin Hooper, approached Fineff about becoming a partner in the firm.

In June 2019, Hooper and Fineff signed an agreement whereby Fineff purchased 5 per cent of Sentinel for $280,000, which Hooper lent him as vendor finance.

In December, Fineff made an initial repayment of 20 per cent, approximately $60,000, and Hooper financed the remaining 80 per cent as detailed in their agreement. As a 5 per cent shareholder, he received dividends, which were offset against the loan provided to purchase the shares.

On 21 April 2023, he was sentenced by the Downing Centre District Court in Sydney after he pleaded guilty last year to deceiving 12 victims out of a total of $3.4 million over a period of three and a half years.

Personal loans
His partnership was instrumental in his ploy to defraud his clients. One in particular, Joyce Williams, eventually reported Fineff to the police.

He had been her financial adviser since 2012, and she invested $361,000 of her money with Macquarie, for which she received a return on her investment.

But between 25 October 2016 and 1 June 2018, Fineff dishonestly obtained $325,000 from Williams, telling her the funds were for personal loans to purchase Sentinel shares.

Williams loaned Fineff $325,000 in several instalments. One of them, on 31 May 2018, was a cheque for $90,000. They agreed he would pay back the money by June 2020 at 6.5 per cent interest. When he provided a contract for the loan and they signed the paperwork, she noticed the interest rate on the document was 5 per cent. Fineff crossed it out and told her he would have the document retyped and bring it back. She never received a copy of that document.

When she received an email from Fineff in March 2020 informing her that he was a gambling addict and had lost her money, she called the police.

In the final year of her life, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 84-year-old was left with limited funds and could not afford to pay her rent. She was issued an eviction order. The police and her local MP assisted her to stay in her house. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer in October 2021.

Investment opportunities
Another ploy Fineff used was enticing his clients into new investment opportunities. He would make it clear to them that these deals were outside of his role at Sentinel.

Fineff convinced Philip Heggie, another of his victims, to give him $220,001.20 in two transactions to purchase shares in QBiotics and Surf Lakes.

“You do not have access to this investment and must complete the purchase of the shares through me,” Fineff said. “This is because I am a professional financial adviser.”

Judge Christopher O’Brien said the funds were predominantly used by Fineff for gambling without the knowledge of the victims. 

“The offender’s dealings with each of the victims was outside his usual role as a financial adviser. The offender told the victims that the loans were offered outside his role at Sentinel, and he was dealing with them in a personal capacity. The victims dealt with the offender because he was their financial adviser and they trusted him to act in their best interest,” the judge said.

“In respect of most of these victims, the offender had established personal bonds over many years. In some instances, he had become close friends with them and their families. His victims let him into their lives, and he seriously abused their generosity, hospitality, and trust.

“The offender was engaged in his employment to manage the investments of his clients and to provide them with advice with a view to maximising their funds. Rather than doing so, he embarked on a sophisticated and long-running course of conduct which mismanaged their funds to feed his personal needs, and in doing so significantly diminished their resources.”

The judge noted that it is implicit in the relationship between a client and his financial adviser that the adviser will always act “with the utmost integrity and probity”.

Three victims — Williams, Doreen Beevor, and Joan Richards — were all elderly women in their early 80s.
Another three — Barry Smith, Roger Gribble, and Kathleen Powell — were in their 70s.

“Meaning no disrespect, these victims were of an age and generation where someone like the offender would be seen as an impressive young professional they could rely on,” the judge said.

“This [was] in circumstances where, no doubt, they had all worked hard throughout their lives to adequately provide for retirement and their family. The level of trust bestowed on the offender was high, as was his breach of that trust. The age of these victims (save for Ms Williams, who in October 2021 sadly passed away in very difficult financial circumstances that were caused by the offender) means that it is virtually impossible to envisage them ever recovering the loss they sustained.

“Their hopes and dreams for the latter part of their lives were seriously impacted by the offender, and these outcomes were foreseeable and indeed predictable. In each sequence, the amount of money defrauded was substantial and significant actual financial loss was suffered by each victim.”

Where did the money go?
A police investigation into Fineff’s gambling revealed he had been a customer of Betfair from 24 March 2010 to 30 May 2020. His final bet was on 22 February 2020.

He lost $758,510 with Ladbrokes over a period of 21 months from 5 June 2018. 

He lost $3,659,843.08 with Sportsbet/BetEasy between 28 June 2014 and 5 October 2018.

He had also been a client of Tabcorp since 27 June 2009. His last bet was on 20 June 2018. The account is blocked. Tabcorp has not provided records to police.

Fineff was sentenced on 21 April to an aggregate term of imprisonment consisting of a total term of nine years and a non-parole period of five years and four months. He will be eligible for release on parole on 12 February 2028.

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Submitted by ChrisC123 on Thu, 2023-04-27 11:46

Shameful behaviour.

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