A “wealthy” financial advisor has been jailed after defrauding clients of $3.35 million to fund his gambling addiction.
Gavin Fineff was married with two children and was making about $160,000 a year at Sydney company Sentinel Management when his gambling got out of hand.
He borrowed $90,000 from his mother to buy a share of Sentinel, but started gambling, losing, and then gambling more to try and recoup his losses.
Fineff, 44, swindled amounts ranging from $60,000 to $745,000 from a dozen victims who trusted him to take care of and increase their savings.
He was sentenced in NSW District Court to at least five years and four months in prison after pleading guilty to 12 charges of unfairly obtaining a financial advantage through deception.
‘Affluent’ financial advisor Gavin Fineff (pictured) has been sentenced to prison for defrauding 12 clients, some of whom are elderly, out of $3.35 million to fund his gambling addiction
“I am convinced that his decision to risk the substantial amount of money his mother had given him and that his subsequent ‘pursuit’ of that money was the beginning of his slide into serious criminal conduct,” Judge Christopher O’ said. Brien at Fineff’s sentencing.
“It saw the unraveling of what would probably have been a promising and prosperous future.”
Between October 2016 and March 2020, Fineff stole millions from clients who, Judge O’Brien said, trusted him to act in their best interests.
Before being arrested and charged, Fineff admitted in a letter to Sentinel’s owner and general manager that he had received money from family, friends and clients and lost it gambling.
He was fired and Sentinel Wealth used forensic accountants to determine the extent of his fraud.
He had suggested to his clients that they give him a loan so that he could buy shares in Sentinel, Surf Lakes Holdings Ltd or QBiotics Group Ltd.
But instead of investing and investing the money he got, he gambled it, 7 News reported.
He said to his boss, “I’m sorry. I borrowed money from people to buy stock in QBiotics, but the disease got to me and I gambled away their money.
So I borrowed more to win it back and I won some and then lost it again.
“Some people bought stock in QBiotics, they all wanted to help me buy some stock too, so they lent me money, but I lost everything and now I’m in huge debt,” he said.
Fineff stopped gambling when he saw that he had lost $3.1 million on just one gambling app.
“How am I going to solve that,” he told the court during his trial. “There was no way I could justify it… I quit because I realized I couldn’t fix it.”
Judge O’Brien said Fineff’s crimes were not done on a whim but were “well planned, deliberate and sophisticated” and that in some cases he had become close friends with his victims and their families over the years.
“His victims let him into their lives and he seriously abused their generosity, hospitality and trust,” he said.
Gavin Fineff stole amounts ranging from $60,000 to $745,000 from a dozen victims. Pictured is a stock image of a man in handcuffs
Fineff stopped gambling when he saw that he had lost $3.1 million on just one gambling app. Pictured is an image of Australian $100 notes
Joyce Williams, 85, who stole $325,000 from her, received an email from Fineff in March 2020 apologizing and admitting he used her money to gamble.
Mrs Williams told police, but the theft went off with limited resources and she was served an eviction notice because she couldn’t pay her rent.
The NSW police and her local MP helped her stay in the house, but she died of breast cancer later that year.
Her daughter Sharon wrote in her victim impact statement that her mother worked hard to live independently, after which Fineff took her savings.
The judge said other victim statements spoke of the stress, fear, embarrassment, betrayal and loss of safety felt by the victims.
Most of the victims have not received any of their money back.
The police investigation revealed that Fineff had accounts with several gambling bureaus and lost more than $4.4 million in total.
“The age of these victims means it is virtually impossible to imagine them ever recovering from the loss they suffered,” Judge O’Brien said.
Since his arrest in May 2021, Fineff has helped recover an estimated $1.3 million to be paid to the victims.
Judge O’Brien said that while this was nowhere near the amount he stole, Fineff had not simply “walked away from his victims without any effort to pay them back.”
Fineff spent time in a psychiatric hospital where he was treated for his addiction and also attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
The court heard he had become a ‘crusader’ for gambling reform, working with MPs to hold gambling companies accountable if a gambler uses stolen money to bet.
He received a 30 percent discount on his sentence for pleading guilty and helping police with their investigation.
He was sentenced to nine years behind bars, with a non-parole period of five years and four months.