Financial planner Gavin Fineff sentenced to nine years in prison for gambling away $3.3 million in client funds
According to the agreed facts, Fineff started working in 2010 for financial planning and investment firm Sentinel Wealth Management in Sydney CBD. As of July 2019, he had a salary package of $160,000 plus performance bonuses that he “matched many times” of about $15,000.
The court heard Fineff was questioned by Sentinel CEO Justin Hooper in early 2020 after a client couple reported being offered an investment via text message that they found “unusual.”
In a five-page handwritten letter to his boss, Fineff admitted to being addicted to gambling and in debt. Later that day, Fineff sent two emails to Hooper, including his estimated debt and a spreadsheet of loans he owed his clients.
“The disease caught me. I lost control and ended up losing everything,” he wrote.
The court heard his victims’ personal loans were “outside his usual role.” In a 5½-hour police interview, Fineff claimed the deals were “personal.”
Fineff’s victims ranged in age from 30 to 80 years old. Many were elderly, including a woman who died of breast cancer in 2021.
Fineff, who is bankrupt, has not returned the funds. He told his victims he was addicted to gambling and had “gambled away everything he owned.” In an apology, he sent an email with the subject line: “Important, I’m sorry.”
The court heard that most of Fineff’s gambling activities were horse racing and conducted online. His total loss to betting shops Ladbrokes and Sportsbet/BetEasy between June 2014 and March 2020 was more than $4.4 million.
“This is a massive amount of money to have lost gambling,” the judge said, adding that there appears to have been no attempt by the companies to identify the source of the funds Fineff wagered with them.
His losses to Betfair and Tabcorp were not identified in the facts.
As Fineff’s level of play escalated, he was given VIP status and a personal customer service manager. He said he received a total of $3.1 million in incentives from Ladbrokes and Sportsbet and at one point received a $50,000 credit which he allegedly lost within 40 minutes before being credited another $50,000 the next day.
In an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald in October 2020, Fineff described the inducements as “like a drug dealer giving people free heroin.”
The judge said Friday, “It’s hard to argue with the accuracy of this analogy.”
“While responsibility for the offender’s criminal behavior clearly rests with him, for reasons of context one cannot ignore that the companies he toyed with fostered an environment that not only provided him with the opportunity to do so, but encouraged him.” actively encouraged,” said O’Brien.
“To the extent that this behavior of incentivizing VIP customers typifies the approach taken by gaming companies, I believe it deserves scrutiny from both the industry itself and those tasked with regulation.”
He noted that Fineff had excellent prospects for rehabilitation, having attended more than 200 Gamblers Anonymous meetings, been involved in conferences and media appearances on gambling reform and contributed to Parliamentary debate, including with Independent MP Andrew Wilkie .
“He [Wilkie] speaks positively of the perpetrator’s assistance in drafting legislation to reform the gambling industry,” the judge said of the correspondence filed in court.
Documents provided by Alliance for Gambling Reform executive director Carol Bennett and Reverend Tim Costello’s attorney also spoke of Fineff’s willingness to engage with them and his courage.
The judge acknowledged that Fineff had “diligently addressed important issues of gambling reform,” adding that while this would likely not offer any comfort to the victims, it was an aspect of his subjective case.
He continued to be satisfied that Fineff’s personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder meant his moral guilt was “slightly mitigated,” but said his gambling addiction fell into a different category and didn’t ameliorate that guilt.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has permanently banned Fineff from offering financial services or being involved in a financial services business, calling the move “necessary to prevent future harm to customers” of such companies.
At the time of Fineff’s arrest in May 2021, Hooper told dem herald that he had been informed of the allegations by Fineff when the police began investigating in March 2020.
“He was never allowed to return to the company. He never set foot in the office again,” Hooper said.
Fineff received a 30 percent rebate for his guilty pleas and support from the authorities. His sentence was backdated to October, when he was taken into custody, and he will be paroled for the first time in February 2028. His maximum sentence expires in October 2031.
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