‘He didn’t care’: The slick Brighton property scammer whose high life came tumbling down

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Terence Rienzo Nugara was a smooth talker.

The 50-year-old had the suit, the tie, the Porsche, the haircut and the air of a successful financial adviser and property developer. He posted images of himself luxuriating on yachts, racing high-performance cars and posing with a $400 bottle of Dom Perignon.

Terence Nugara enjoyed fast cars.

He showed investors blue chip parcels of land in some of Melbourne’s most exclusive pockets – Malvern, Kew, Sandringham and Glen Iris – claiming they were under development and safe investments with huge returns.

He met clients at an office in Bay Street, one of Brighton’s most expensive strips.

To his clients, he was known affectionately as “Rio”.

But on the run in Mexico, trying to build a new business with fresh investors, Nugara was kidnapped in an extortion attempt, and it all came tumbling down.

He pleaded guilty in the County Court on Tuesday to 37 charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and two of theft. As a result of his deception, he stole a total of $10,152, 061 from 38 Australian victims.

With his millions, he took off overseas in 2019, living for three years between Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and Singapore. The money he stole funded an extravagant lifestyle.

“The money went on living expenses, lifestyle choices he made,” his barrister, Mark Sturges, told the court. “The money was spent on things such as his race cars, he was involved in race cars; a helicopter; boats; living expenses. It was offending, as it’s known in the courts, motivated by greed.”

Nugara participated in some of Australia’s premier motorsport categories, including the GT Trophy Series and the Australian Endurance Championships.

In Mexico, Nugara sought new investors in an online gambling platform, but he was kidnapped in an extortion attempt. He sought help from the Australian embassy, where he learned about the warrant for his arrest.

The court heard he tied up affairs overseas and returned to Australia, to be handcuffed by police at Melbourne Airport last October.

Nugara encouraged investors to convert their superannuation to self-managed super funds, giving them flexibility to invest in his property deals.

Between September 2014 and January 2018, police said, he transferred money from the accounts of 38 victims into his own personal accounts to use for his personal gain.

“Nugara was a very confident, persuasive, smooth-talking man,” said one victim, whom this masthead has chosen not to name for privacy reasons. “He said this was a very good investment: low risk, huge profit, guaranteed returns.”

“You’re a selfish, greedy little man,” the victim said of Nugara. “I don’t know how you sleep at night … We have nothing but contempt and hate for you.”

Another victim spoke of the profound betrayal by someone she had known for many years.

“I could not believe the situation given the close personal and professional relationship I shared with Mr Nugara over many years … disbelief, devastation and feelings of helplessness impacted my life … my mind was consumed with worrying thoughts about our future,” she said.

“I take some solace in the fact that he will face justice for what he has done to myself and others.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere apology to all the people I’ve hurt and let down, and all of the lives that I’ve ruined by my actions. I’m sorry.”

Another victim told the court that his wife’s super was gone, throwing them into a period of uncertainty and hardship when they were trying to prepare for retirement.

“We are faced with the ongoing need to work well past retirement age and may well become recipients of the age pension, which was never our intention,” he said.

A victim who is a pensioner said he felt isolated and depressed. Another victim said he would never again trust a financial adviser.

The court heard that Nugara used his position as representative of Financial Services Partners to convince clients to transfer to him millions of dollars, which he promised to invest in luxury serviced apartments.

Nugara posing suited up for a race.

He had worked for Westpac and Commonwealth Bank before starting his own business, Skynet Financial Services, which shares a name with the fictional artificial intelligence system from the Terminator film franchise.

“There will have been opportunities for him to reflect on his conduct. I’m sure he did, but he didn’t care,” County Court judge Trevor Wraight said.

Of the money investigators tracked down, they found the bulk, nearly $8 million, was transferred into Nugara’s personal and business bank accounts.

“You’re a selfish greedy little man. I don’t know how you sleep at night … We have nothing but contempt and hate for you.”

After the damage he wrought, Nugara offered two lines of solace for his victims: “Your Honour, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere apology to all the people I’ve hurt and let down, and all of the lives that I’ve ruined by my actions. I’m sorry.”

He is currently incarcerated at the Ravenhall Correctional Centre and has served 336 days of pre-sentence detention. He did not have a previous criminal record.

Nugara is to be sentenced in October.

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