'Magnificent ride' promised to casino executive

MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 16:05 11/10/2012
Loizos Michaels
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
ON TRIAL: Loizos Michaels in the dock in Auckland District Court while on charges of fraud.

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A Christchurch Casino executive lost $38,000 of his pensioner parents' savings to an alleged conman who promised to take him for a "magnificent ride", the Auckland District Court had heard.

Peter Arbuckle, the former second-in-command at the Christchurch Casino, today gave evidence in the trial of Loizos Michaels who is charged with 31 counts of fraud. Michaels has pleaded not guilty.

The court heard how Michaels first came to the attention of Christchurch Casino bosses in mid 2007 after he and his associate, George Plakas, regularly gambled up to $15,000 a day on slot machines and made regular complaints about service.

"He would call me in the middle of the night and ask unusual requests," Arbuckle said in reference to Michaels' demands for food and beverage.

Arbuckle told the court Michaels presented himself as working for the Macau-based billionaire Ho family who were interested in taking over SkyCity Entertainment Group.

Arbuckle said he was offered a job, formalised in an employment contract, paying a salary in excess of $1 million to work for Michaels on the takeover.

On May 31, Arbuckle resigned from Christchurch Casino and talked to Michaels on the phone from the casino carpark. "Michaels told me we were in for a magnificent ride and to go home and relax and I'd be called in due course," he said.

Arbuckle said his personal and professional relationships quickly went downhill after moving to Auckland and being ordered to raise funds for a planned online casino venture Michaels said was backed by the Ho Family.

He said he was hesitant to do so, but felt pressured as it was indicated his new job depended on giving money to Michaels.

Arbuckle said he originally invested $20,000 from he and his wife's bank account, and his dealings with Michaels left his marriage in a "precarious" position.

He said he convinced his cousin who was based abroad to invest $17,000, but Michaels was furious when the funds took several days.

"He was livid. He didn't think the money was coming. He didn't believe me. He called me a f...ing liar," Arbuckle told the court.

Arbuckle said Michaels demanded he regularly ring his cousin to chase up the wire transfer, and after several days Arbuckle said "my cousin wouldn't answer the phone any more".

After two or three days the $17,000 arrived in Auckland, and Arbuckle said he handed over the sum to Michaels' associates.

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Arbuckle went on to contact his pensioner parents, who wired $38,000 from Australia to their son who handed over the sum to Michaels.

The charges against Michaels allege he induced Arbuckle to raise a total $1.5m from investors to put into Michaels' schemes.

Asked by prosecutor Christine Gordon, SC, if he would have handed over such sums if he had known Loizos was lying about his connections to the Ho family, or if the takeover of SkyCity was fictitious, Arbuckle said: "I would have turned him down and reported him to the police."

The trial continues.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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