Three charged over alleged $4.7M money laundering scheme at Melbourne gaming venue

A woman in a black jumped is led away by two AFP officers

This is a joint media release between the AFP, Victorian Gambling & Casino Control Commission, AUSTRAC and NAB

Editor’s note: Vision of the arrests is available via Hightail

The AFP has charged three members of an alleged Melbourne money laundering syndicate for allegedly paying patrons to sign-over their winning cheques from electronic gaming machines.

The alleged ringleader of the syndicate, a Springvale South woman, 49, along with a man, 63, and a woman, 61 from Noble Park will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court tomorrow (Thursday 8 September, 2022).

The alleged offenders have been charged with:

  • Engaging in conduct in relation to money or property that was proceeds of general crime, when the value of the money or property was $1 million or more, contrary to Section 400.3 (2A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for the offence is 20 years' imprisonment.

After a 12-month, multi-jurisdictional investigation, AFP investigators executed three search warrants across Melbourne’s south-east on Tuesday (6 September, 2022), including a commercial property in Springvale and two homes in Springvale South and Noble Park.

During the search warrants, investigators seized more than $170,000 in cash and gold bullions hidden inside the Springvale South property. Money was discovered concealed inside plywood within a bedroom in the home.

It is alleged the syndicate laundered millions of dollars in illicit cash through a Springvale licensed gaming venue by buying jackpots from patrons.

The syndicate allegedly paid the patrons cash if they handed over their winning cheques, which would then be issued in the name of a syndicate member.

The money would be deposited later into a bank and attributed as legitimate gambling winnings.

The AFP-led investigation included significant support from AUSTRAC, the Victorian Gambling & Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) and National Australia Bank, who each provided assistance with intelligence, insights and resources which assisted the operation.

The 12-month investigation began after an initial report from AUSTRAC intelligence and, around the same time, the VGCCC providing details of its own data analysis and covert operations dating back from November 2020.

Subsequent monitoring and intelligence by the VGCCC revealed that between November 2021 and June 2022:

  • The gaming venue allegedly issued an abnormally high number of cheques compared to other gaming venues.
  • Approximately 73% of those cheques (valued at more than $4.7 million dollars) had been issued to a select group of patrons – all suspected to be involved in or associated with those laundering illicit funds.

The joint investigation led detectives to identify a number of syndicate members suspected of coordinating the scheme through the gaming venue.

VGCCC investigations into the venue and its staff are ongoing. Any breaches of Victorian gambling laws by the venue or its staff will result in disciplinary action, which ranges from fines to licence cancellation.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner Raegan Stewart said the AFP was committed to working with law enforcement and industry partners to target money laundering enterprises that enabled organised criminal activity.

“Money laundering is the backbone of organised crime activity. Money is the sole reason organised crime exists and targeting how these groups get their ill-gotten profits into legitimate financial systems is a key priority for the AFP,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Stewart said.

“Licensed clubs and gaming venues should already be on notice that they are a significant risk for money laundering activities, and are often misused by individuals for criminal intent.

“Police target those seeking to profit from selling drugs or stealing from law-abiding citizens, but venues are reminded they cannot turn a blind eye to criminal activity – the risk and consequences for our communities are too high.”

VGCCC CEO Annette Kimmitt AM said the agency unraveled this multi-million-dollar syndicate through its data intelligence and referred the matter to the AFP and AUSTRAC. 

“Today we put the whole gambling industry on notice.”

“This money laundering network would still be operating it if wasn’t for the forensic approach taken by our dedicated team of analysts and investigators, who put countless hours into reviewing data and footage, and conducting our own covert operations.”

“This operation shows that as a new regulator with stronger powers we are watching the gambling industry closely and we will work with other agencies to actively pursue and shut down criminal activity.”

AUSTRAC National Manager Law Enforcement and Industry, Jon Brewer, stated that the investigation was informed by AUSTRAC’s unique financial intelligence capabilities.  

“Today’s operation demonstrates the benefit of AUSTRAC working closely with our law enforcement partners and using AUSTRAC’s sophisticated intelligence capabilities to uncover suspicious financial patterns. It is a timely reminder that money laundering can occur in any business without robust controls,” he said.

“This is why AUSTRAC’s role as both a financial intelligence unit and regulator is invaluable: we share our financial intelligence with law enforcement and regulatory partners to inform investigations, and we collaborate with industry to educate businesses to harden their processes to money laundering.”

NAB Executive for Group Investigations and Fraud Chris Sheehan said NAB was pleased to be able to support the investigation.

“We were very pleased to assist the AFP in this matter, helping to identify persons of interest, provide insight into the money laundering techniques used, and through ongoing support with the investigation,” Mr Sheehan said. 

“NAB has a strong partnership with the AFP - enshrined in a Memorandum of Understanding - that is a key part of our ongoing efforts to tackle financial crime and ultimately keep our customers and the community safe from organised criminal activity. 

“These collaborative efforts between public and private sectors are crucial to protecting Australians.”

If anyone has any information relating to this investigation or has been approached for payment for winning cheques please contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.

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