Australian conman admits to fleecing victims of A$7 million

Hamish McLaren fleeced 15 victims of more than $7 million over six years.

Hamish McLaren fleeced 15 victims of more than $7 million over six years.

A Sydney conman who pretended to be a barrister, investment fund manager and Harvard graduate fleeced more than A$7 million from victims including fashion designer Lisa Ho by claiming he had access to lucrative investment opportunities, including insider knowledge of a gold mine.

Hamish Earle McLaren, 48, took A$7.66m from 15 victims in a trail of deception that lasted from May 2011 until his arrest in July 2017.

McLaren variously urged victims to cash in their superannuation, redraw from their mortgages, sell their shares, and apply for home loans to give him money for non-existent investment schemes that promised a high return.

On Wednesday, McLaren wore prison greens as he pleaded guilty at Central Local Court in Sydney to 17 counts of dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception and one count of knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime. A further 58 charges were withdrawn.

* Australian conman drives $560,000 Ferrari as creditors fight for their money

* Inside an Australian detective's world of conmen and murderers
* The crook and the celeb chef: Adriano Zumbo in near miss as conman comes the raw prawn

"I'm glad he's behind bars and starting to feel the punishment he dumped on so many trusting people," Ho said.

Fashion designer Lisa Ho, pictured at Waverley Local Court in 2017, had money stolen by Hamish McLaren.

Fashion designer Lisa Ho, pictured at Waverley Local Court in 2017, had money stolen by Hamish McLaren.

The renowned designer was introduced to McLaren through her ex-husband in late 2011 and paid him A$850,000 of her superannuation with the expectation he would invest it. McLaren deposited A$100,000 with a now-bankrupt investment company but spent the remainder as he liked.

Ho launched legal proceedings and was able to recover A$500,000 after successfully applying to have McLaren declared bankrupt. In an email to the Herald this week, Ho said she was in contact with other victims and some had lost everything.

According to agreed facts tendered to the court, McLaren met one of his victims at a Bondi surf shop and competed in triathlons with another victim who considered him a friend.

He convinced a third victim to part with A$317,000 after meeting her on a dating app in May 2016 and beginning a relationship with her under the fake name Max Tavita.

Ad Feedback

McLaren took A$1.7m from a retired couple, leaving them with no superannuation or savings, and urged one woman to think of the "bigger picture" when she asked him to return A$300,000 he had stolen after getting her to fill in bank documents to "update her details".

Hamish Earle McLaren has pleaded guilty to 18 charges.

Hamish Earle McLaren has pleaded guilty to 18 charges.

In early 2017, McLaren – purporting to be a practising barrister – was asked to help with a legal issue after meeting the part-owner of a surf shop in Bondi when he went there to try out a surfboard.

During meetings in May and June 2017, McLaren gave advice, made notations on documents, and introduced the surf shop owner and his partner to a legitimate solicitor, who had no idea McLaren was pretending to be a barrister.

McLaren then claimed he needed A$33,270.42 to possibly settle the dispute, however when the money was paid, he simply took it.

Another two victims – a couple from Ulan in western NSW – handed over a total of A$754,900 after they were introduced to McLaren by other victims and he offered to invest their superannuation for them.

McLaren gained their trust for several months before he claimed to have a "very good short-term investment opportunity" – a gold mine in Papua New Guinea, which a "geologist friend" had recently discovered was profitable.

The couple re-drew A$200,000 from their mortgage to invest in the mine, Panguna, and McLaren offered to cover their mortgage payments while the "very safe" investment played out.

Within months, they became suspicious and demanded their money back. McLaren initially gave them A$120,000, then tricked them into giving it back to him, and ultimately offered a string of excuses and delays.

Each time McLaren convinced a new victim to pay up, he would use their money to pay "dividends" or "interest" to others, to prolong their belief he was a legitimate investment manager. The scheme was described by a magistrate in 2017 as "taking from Peter to give to Paul".

Three of the women McLaren preyed on had recently divorced from their husbands and received property or money as part of the settlement. One woman, who had just left rehab, gave McLaren A$1.05m when she was introduced to him through another of his victims and he claimed to be a former Goldman Sachs employee and Harvard Business School graduate.

As McLaren's deceptions progressed, he lived at various properties including a home at Blueys Beach, near Forster on the NSW north coast, a luxury waterfront unit in Sydney suburb Woollomooloo, and a one-bedroom apartment near Bondi Beach. He is now in custody at Sydney's Long Bay jail.

According to facts signed by McLaren on Wednesday, police have not identified any legitimate employment or income for him for the period being investigated.

He operated 30 bank accounts, in various business names and under one alias, and frequently shifted funds between them as he operated a "pyramid-style scheme". Some of the victims received up to A$569,000 of money back, while others received none.

McLaren maintains that he paid back substantial amounts of cash to the victims, exceeding amounts referred to in agreed facts.

He will return to court on September 14.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback