A MAN involved in a fake charity scam which used images of terminally ill children – including one from Epsom – has been placed on a community corrections order.
Luke Sean Riddick, 33, pleaded guilty in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Thursday to negligently dealing with the proceeds of crime, criminal damage and theft.
The court was told the organisation, Grace Christian Centre of Australia, was not a registered charity and was not authorised to carry out collections.
But Riddick was involved in running charity stalls at Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA supermarkets across Bendigo, and outside AFL matches and racing clubs, fundraising using images of terminally ill children.
Riddick pleaded guilty to negligently handling the proceeds of crime for $31,000 received by the charity which had not been provided to any families of terminally ill children, a police investigation found.
Police say the money was used for personal expenditures including food, accommodation and fuel, and police could not find any bank statements or electronic records to show the full money had been passed on to families.
Only $800 could be traced to the family of two Epsom children with terminal Batten’s disease, but the family told the court they had been promised far more money than they had received and $3900 had been raised by a GoFundMe page run by the Grace Christian Centre.
Images of their children were used during the scam.
Police started investigating Grace Christian Centre in April 2015 after a tip-off to Crime Stoppers.
They raided the Harcourt premises where Riddick was living in May 2017, seizing documents, collection tins, point-of-sale machines and advertising signage.
Police also found about $10,000 worth of furniture and appliances allegedly stolen from a house on Condon Street, Kennington – the address Riddick had previously lived at.
Images of the damaged house below:
Riddick caused about $10,000 worth of damage to the house by smashing windows and punching holes in walls when they were evicted for falling $11,000 in arrears with their rent.
The court heard the criminal damage occurred during a “drug-induced psychosis” caused by Riddick’s ice addiction. The landlord described the house as in a “putrid and damaged state”.
The court heard Riddick had a “difficult upbringing” and his admissions to police, and early guilty plea, should reduce his sentence. He had a prior fraud-related offence from South Australia for opening numerous bank accounts under different names.
Magistrate Sarah Leighfield accepted that there were concerns about Riddick’s “state of mind” when the offending occurred, and this might explain his offending.
She said the conduct was “reprehensible” but believed Riddick would not reoffend.
“Having had your eyes opened through this particularly process, I don’t think I have so much to be worried about with specific deterrence with you,” Ms Leighfield said.
“It is serious offending and you shouldn’t be left in any doubt that it is serious offending.”
Riddick was convicted and placed on a 12-month community corrections order, with 140 hours of unpaid community work. He must also get treatment for drug dependence and mental health issues, which will be taken off the community work hours.