“Fool’s gold”: A “generous” grandmother of five has convinced friends to part with nearly $30,000 to fund scammers’ pockets.
“Fool’s gold”: A “generous” grandmother of five has convinced friends to part with nearly $30,000 to fund scammers’ pockets.

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A magistrate "almost in tears" with frustration has resorted to scripture to convince a devout 77-year-old grandmother of five to stop sending thousands of dollars of friends' money to overseas scammers and "Nigerian princes".

"The Devil's words will always sound sweet," Magistrate Deborah Vasta said to the defendant.

"Your are chasing the Devil down holes."

Described at Cleveland Magistrates Court as a victim of scammers herself, Loganlea woman Judith Ann Fankhauser pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud - dishonestly obtains property from another.

In an extraordinary hearing, where the court broke out in spontaneous giggles when Fankhauser's defence counsel said the "heavily religious" grandmother was currently in a relationship with a "wealthy gentleman in Afghanistan", prosecutors warned that significant sums of victims' money had been lost "for good".

The court heard, having "invested" more than $100,000 of her own money in "overseas investments" which had yet to yield a return but promised a "$200-$300 million windfall", Fankhauser had convinced four members of an Ormiston family to invest nearly $30,000.

Fankhauser, the court was told, convinced the family members that a Malaysian businessman, Michael Lawrence, was in need of the funds and would return the investment with "100 per cent" interest once received.

At the behest of Fankhauser, the victims visited multiple banks and ATMs and even opened a separate bank account to house the gathered funds, with one victim investing more than $19,000.

A police prosecutor said the fraudulent investments occurred between Sept 3 - December 19 in 2018, after police had spoken with the grandmother on numerous occasions to warn her of scams.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Angela Tetley told the court Fankhauser had been banned from MoneyGram and Western Union after numerous "fraudulent-like" transactions were observed under the defendant's name dating back to 2014.

Despite this, the court heard, Fankhauser had persisted in her behaviour "extensively" and was convinced Michael Lawrence would appear at the court today to provide testimony.

A court clerk went as far as to call for Michael Lawrence over the in-house intercom, with no such person appearing, because "he does not exist".


Grandmother Judith Fankhauser pictured was implored to beware of scams. Picture Marcel Baum
Grandmother Judith Fankhauser pictured was implored to beware of scams. Picture Marcel Baum


Sgt Tetley clarified that a mental health report had found Fankhauser in good health and "could not claim it as a defence".

Defence solicitor Tanya Dower said her client was an intelligent and social woman on the pension who "genuinely and honestly" believed the investments would come to fruition and had approached her victims out of "generosity".

An inquiry by the defence whether Fankhauser could contact victims to provide them their profits should the investments come through, was summarily declined by the magistrate.

Magistrate Vasta acknowledged the woman's genuine belief in the scheme but noted that she knew it was wrong to use others' money and accounts yet persisted, despite comprehensive efforts by police to warn her of "fool's gold".

"It has corrupted you because you have gone around and used others' bank accounts," Magistrate Vasta said.

"You knew it was wrong and the person you were most dishonest with was yourself.

"Michael Lawrence is not here because he is not real; he is probably a Nigerian prince telling the same stories to hundreds of other women."

The magistrate further warned the court that such scammers were increasingly "cunning and clever" and used "believable language" to camouflage what remained "gobbledygook".

It was noted to the court that young people were also susceptible to such internet charms with "multiple solicitors" falling for a similar ruse.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is," Magistrate Vasta said.

Fankhauser was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and placed on a $1,000 good behaviour bond over two years.



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No restitution was ordered to be repaid to the victims, however Fankhauser was banned from contacting Michael Lawrence, participating in any schemes or competitions and ordered to use her personal bank account for money transfers.

No conviction was recorded.

Originally published as Grandmother convinces multiple to send thousands to scammers