Promoter of $180m Courtenay House Ponzi scheme pleads guilty to two criminal charges

Promoter of $180m Courtenay House Ponzi scheme pleads guilty to two criminal charges

A NSW man has pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including dealing with the proceeds of crime, for his role in promoting a $180 million Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the Courtenay House group over a decade ago.

David Sipina, of Croydon, pleaded guilty to two criminal charges after appearing this week before the Downing Centre Local Court.

The charges comprise one count of carrying on a financial services business without a license and another count of dealing in the proceeds of crime worth $1 million or more.

This is the third guilty plea relating to the Courtenay House Ponzi scheme investigated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

The scheme, which operated out of Bondi Junction, is said to have extracted money from 585 investors over more than six years before the Courtenay House group was placed into liquidation in May 2017.

The former sole director of Courtenay House, Tony Iervasi of Tweed Heads, had previously pleaded guilty to five criminal charges and is awaiting sentencing for his role in the unlicensed financial services business.

Former Courtenay House contractor Athan Papoulias, of Brighton Le Sands, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment last year for his role in the scheme which offered high returns to investors who were told their funds would be traded in the forex and futures markets.

Papoulias, who received commissions totalling $670,860 for promoting investments in Courtenay House, is serving his sentence by way of intensive corrections orders with 120 hours of community service.

ASIC alleges that although the investors contributed over $180 million to the scheme, only a fraction of the funds was actually traded with most new investor funds used to repay earlier investors – a fraudulent arrangement known as a Ponzi scheme.

ASIC has previously revealed that investors in the scheme were offered "standard" investment products and several "investment specials" to encourage trading.

In December 2016, Iervasi invited clients to invest in a "US Election Special Trade" which was to take place between 1 January 2017 and 1 February 2017 to coincide with the inauguration of President Trump, as a way to invest in what Iervasi claimed was "fast-money markets". Iervasi offered investors a 15 per cent return with a 20 per cent risk.

Iervasi’s clients were told, via weekly emails, that they had made profits from the US Inauguration Special Trade, but ASIC says the money was instead used to sustain the Ponzi scheme.

Sipina, who ASIC records reveal was a director of Courtenay House Trading Group and Sipina Enterprises, pleaded guilty to carrying on an unlicensed financial services business between 24 June 2015 and 21 April 2017.

His role included referring new investors and marketing the business, although ASIC says it is not alleged that Sipina was aware the business was a Ponzi scheme.

Sipina has also pleaded guilty to dealing with money which was, and which he believed to be, the proceeds of crime, in the form of commissions he received for promoting investments in Courtenay House despite it being unlicensed.

Following his guilty plea, Sipina was committed to the Sydney District Court for sentencing on a date yet to be fixed.

At the time of the offence, the maximum penalty for carrying on a financial services business without an Australian Financial Services license was two years’ imprisonment, a fine of $34,000, or both.

The maximum penalty for dealing with the proceeds of crime, or believing it to be proceeds of crime, is 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $204,000.

A related charge against Sipina of engaging in dishonest conduct in relation to a financial product or service has been withdrawn following his guilty plea to the other charges.

The matter is being prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions after an investigation and referral by ASIC.

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