Australia

Former Ipswich mayor found guilty of extortion after posing as private investigator

Paul Pisasale arrives to the District Court. Source: AAP

A jury has found former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale guilty of extortion after he tried to get money from a Sydney taxi driver.

Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale has been found guilty of extortion by posing as a private investigator to demand money from a Sydney taxi driver.

Pisasale was convicted of two counts of extortion on Wednesday after his Brisbane District Court trial heard he dishonestly demanded up to $10,000 from Xin Li.

Yutian Li, Xin's ex-girlfriend, and Cameron James McKenzie have also been found guilty of extortion over the plot in which the victim was threatened with court action if he didn't pay up.

Pisasale claimed he demanded money from Xin because it was "rightfully owed" to Yutian, a Singaporean woman the former politician made friends with after receiving escort services from her.

Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasalel this week.
Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasalel this week.
AAP

Pisasale testified his attempts to extract money from Xin were to reimburse Yutian for financial losses she suffered when she uprooted her life to be with Xin only for their relationship to fail.

He also believed Xin owed her the cost of the private investigation to uncover that he was married during the relationship.

But the jury rejected his testimony, siding with prosecutors who argued Xin owed Yutian nothing and Pisasale's pursuit of him was dishonest.

She and Pisasale were motivated by a desire to get money for her to stay in Australia and leave the sex industry.

There was no evidence of an investigation and documents Pisasale claimed proved Xin financially abandoned Yutian didn't include her name.

Yutian told Pisasale she wanted to punish Xin after they broke up.

In the first phone call, Pisasale pretended to be a health researcher to get personal information from Xin.

He then pretended to be a private investigator hired by Yutian in a series of calls in which he told Xin he needed to pay between $5000 and $10,000.

Pisasale made threats of court action, which would be public, namely a $200,000 lawsuit.

Crown prosecutor Sarah Farnden said Pisasale's offending was aggravated by his masquerade as a private investigator, which was about having power over Xin to gain "leverage".

Pisasale faced trial for more than a week after he and Yutian pleaded not guilty to two counts of extortion.

Ipswich lawyer McKenzie was convicted of one count of extortion after he, at the request of Pisasale, wrote to Xin demanding money and threatening to take the matter to the Federal Court.

The jury reached its verdict after one day of deliberation.

The Crown has called for three to four-year jail sentences for each of them.

In sentencing submissions, Pisasale's defence barrister Lincoln Crowley maintained he acted "out of a misguided sense of justice".

"This was Mr Pisasale acting without properly scrutinising the claim to him (by Yutian)," Mr Crowley said.

"He saw himself and was motivated as someone who could fix people's problems."

Mr Pisasale suffers from multiple sclerosis and had a "complete mental breakdown" following his sacking as mayor in 2017 after being charged, Mr Crowley said.

Judge Brad Farr has indicated he will hand down his sentence on Thursday.

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