Australia: Poker player folds and admits to $72 million Ponzi scheme

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Jim and Deb Barker© Louise Donges Jim and Deb Barker Bill Jordanou was renowned for his aggressive style at casinos around the globe but the former professional poker player finally folded in Melbourne's County Court on Monday and admitted to his hand in a $72 million Ponzi scheme.

His co-accused, former Scoresby accountant Robert Zaia, 54, also pleaded guilty to his part in the massive fraud, including siphoning about $26 million into his family trust.

The scam left a trail of destruction that saw several clients of the accountancy firm lose their homes amid allegations Commonwealth Bank staff were complicit in the fraud.

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The chips are down for professional poker player Bill Jordanou.© Supplied The chips are down for professional poker player Bill Jordanou. However, their decision to plead guilty and avoid trial will deny victims the opportunity to determine the exact role CBA staff played in the scam, which was first brought to the attention of the bank's management in 2007 – but not referred to police until 2011.

After more than four years on bail, Jordanou admitted to using fraudulent documents to get loans on behalf of clients, usually for property developments.

Bill Jordanou leaves court.© Joe Armao Bill Jordanou leaves court. Funds were then siphoned from clients' accounts without their consent.

Fairfax Media has previously reported that Jordanou and Zaia lived lavish lifestyles that included buying a fleet of luxury cars, two boats, a jet-ski, Harley-Davidson motorbikes, jewelery and regular gambling trips to Macau and Las Vegas.

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Most of the dodgy loans were processed by staff at the CBA's Box Hill branch, including former mobile lender Brendan Epps, who was described in court as a "conduit" and an "inside man" for Jordanou and Zaia.

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Mr Epps died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2007. Jordanou was a pallbearer at his funeral, but cultivated other relationships with staff at the Box Hill branch.

Robert Zaia© Supplied Robert Zaia "The Commonwealth Bank, through Epps and others, were very much party to these deceptions," Jordanou's barrister Patrick Tehan, QC, told the court.

Mildura plasterer Jim Barker and wife Debbie met with Mr Epps in February 2007 to raise concerns about a property development on Phillip Island that had been arranged by Jordanou.

The couple reported to the CBA's fraud investigation unit that a document that stated Mr Barker's annual salary was $343,000 had been forged with the complicity of bank staff to obtain a loan of $1.5 million. At the time, Mr Barker earned about $80,000 and was unable to service the loan.

In May 2007, CBA assessment analyst Andrew Rutherford confirmed their suspicions.

"From my initial review of this matter the original loan document ... contains a false statement of employment."

"I am now pursuing the fraud matter ... and have requested they report the matter to Scoresby police," Mr Rutherford said in a 2007 email.

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But CBA did not contact police until 2011. Meanwhile the Barkers were forced to sell their Mildura property after CBA refused to accept the loan documents had also been forged.

Ms Barker remains furious that the bank has repeatedly blocked her attempts to seek compensation. "[We] have nothing and it feels like the bank is punishing us, when we were the ones who brought it to their attention," she said.

The bank released a statement on Tuesday: "We understand the distress involved for any customers where they are the victim of fraud. In the event mistakes are made by the bank, we look to put these right.

"Investigations by both CBA and Victoria Police however found no evidence of collusion or knowing involvement by bank staff in the Jordanou-Zaia frauds."

Giulia Mandarino says the bank never made any attempt to compensate her when she lost her Port Melbourne home. She took out a $200,000 loan at a meeting with Jordanou in March 2006.

Ms Mandarino claims the loan was increased to $450,000 without her consent, and as a single mother of two young children she was unable to repay it.

'These people knew what they were doing. They have financially ruined my life and jeopardised my kids' future.

"At one point I had four sheriffs at the door and the bank was after my blood,'' she said.

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Fairfax Media can also reveal the bank was paying commissions to Jordanou and Zaia at the same time it was tracking them through an internal fraud detection system called "Hunter".

The oversight was revealed in a recent Supreme Court case involving property developer Nick Fotopoulos, who lost almost $2.5 million in unauthorised transfers to Jordanou and Zaia.

The bank reached a confidential financial settlement with Mr Fotopoulos on June 7.

A former staff member from the Box Hill branch told Fairfax Media at least three staff were aware Mr Jordanou was lodging fraudulent loan applications.

"I looked at the file and I knew immediately what was going on. There were no payslips or tax returns to support salary declarations and other documents were missing... And it wasn't uncommon for files to just disappear," the former CBA employee said.

The payment of secret commissions to mobile lenders appears to have been confirmed during a recorded interview between Zaia and a lawyer on November 23, 2011.

"Yeah he was our contact, he would come into our office ... and he would get paid a commission on the side," Zaia said to a solicitor at Frenkel Partners.

Jordanou and Zaia will be sentenced by County Court Judge Paul Lacava at a later date.

According to Mr Tehan, QC, Jordanou is being held in protective custody after police intelligence revealed his life was under threat. A recent burglary on his former family home in Narre Warren was linked to the death threats.

The former mates, who once owned matching Mercedes cars and a speed boat called "Bad Boys", were separated by a guard in the dock, avoiding any eye contact with each other.

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