Australia

NSW conman Hamish McLaren jailed for 12 years over swindling $7.6 million from 15 victims

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The Sydney conman fleeced 15 victims over six years, the majority being through a Ponzi or pyramid scheme, including Australian fashion designer Lisa Ho.

A serial conman has been jailed for at least 12 years after swindling more than $7.6 million from people including girlfriends and good friends.

Hamish Earle McLaren fleeced 15 victims - including Australian fashion designer Lisa Ho and his then-girlfriend Tracey Hall - in a series of frauds run from 2011 until July 2017, when he was arrested.

Bec Rosen, ex-wife of Hamish McLaren, (centre) leaves the Downing Centre District Court in Sydney on 13 June 2019.
Bec Rosen, ex-wife of Hamish McLaren, (centre) leaves the Downing Centre District Court in Sydney on 13 June 2019.
AAP

"He has had absolutely no compassion to the victims," NSW District Court Acting Judge Colin Charteris said on Thursday.

"To reveal the skill of this offender, he was able to persuade Ms Ho, an experienced businesswoman, and (her company's) chief financial officer about his qualifications."

Some $5.4 million has never been accounted for and McLaren has declined to say where it went, the judge said.

McLaren was sentenced to 16 years in jail, with a non-parole period of 12 years.

He will be eligible for parole in July 2029.

NSW District Court Acting Judge Colin Charteris.
NSW District Court Acting Judge Colin Charteris.
SBS

Sentence 'sends a message'

In handing down the sentence, Judge Charteris described Mr McLaren's behaviour as devious, adding that he acted as "if you would never be brought to account".

"This offender preyed on victims. He had the ability to persuade them to part with their money. He had no empathy for them. He was driven by the main game, which was to obtain their money to spend as he wished."

He said the sentence sent a message to Mr McLaren and also the wider community. 

Tracy Hall, former girlfriend of Hamish McLaren, leaves the Downing Centre District Court.
Tracy Hall, former girlfriend of Hamish McLaren, leaves the Downing Centre District Court.
AAP

"Many people have superannuation funds. There are pots of gold that will be attractive to those with the morals of this offender.

"The message must go into the community that if you defraud people of their hard-earned money -- not only in their superannuation funds, but also encouraging them to mortgage further their property, or encouraging them to spend their savings -- you can expect an appropriately condign punishment.

"This is the most serious behaviour. There must be a significant punishment, not just so that this offender knows, but so that other like-minded individuals are aware that should they engage in this behaviour, very significant punishment will eventuate." 

McLaren agrees label of conman deserved

The fraudster, in a letter to the judge, said he was truly sorry and "the labels of conman and alike are deserved".

The 49-year-old was arrested in 2017 after his multiple faux investment schemes - including in currency, gold and shares in a "profitable" Papua New Guinea gold mine - came unstuck.

McLaren has no formal financial qualifications and on one occasion also pretended to be a practising barrister.

Lorraine Cross and her husband Peter, victims of Hamish McLaren, leave the Downing Centre District Court.
Lorraine Cross and her husband Peter, victims of Hamish McLaren, leave the Downing Centre District Court.
AAP

He fleeced 15 victims over six years, the majority being through a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.

Ex-girlfriend Tracy Hall gave $317,000 to McLaren - who provided her with false tax invoices - and has never been paid back, the agreed facts state.

Fashion designer Lisa Ho gave McLaren $850,000 in superannuation after he promised a low-risk investment with a high return.

She took him to court after being duped and McLaren was declared bankrupt in 2016 but continued his scam.

The facts state he didn't invest their funds, but instead transferred money between his accounts and "spent as he decided".

Victims of Hamish McLaren, Tracy Hall and Karen Lowe (right), return to the Downing Centre District Court following a lunch break on 13 June 2019.
Victims of Hamish McLaren, Tracy Hall and Karen Lowe (right), return to the Downing Centre District Court following a lunch break on 13 June 2019.
AAP

'Dress like James Bond'

His brother-in-law, Christopher Rourke, testified at McLaren's sentence hearing: "He would watch a James Bond movie and then dress like James Bond. Same suit, same hair."

He said McLaren also owned an Aston Martin and, at another stage, he believed he was leasing two Ferraris.

Crown prosecutor Carl Young said McLaren "was motivated by greed, not need" and his "systematic dishonesty" wasn't related to any mental illness.

McLaren has been in custody since his arrest in July 2017.

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