Adverse findings against a close friend of crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen ... NSW Police Integrity Commission recommends fraud charges against professional punter Steve Fletcher and police engaged in betting scam ... Contradictory statements about the depth and meaning of Cunneen and Fletcher's relationship ... Kate Lilly reporting
THE NSW Police Integrity Commission has laid out in spellbinding detail an elaborate betting scam operated by the professional gambler Stephen (The Professor) Fletcher, one-time close personal friend of NSW deputy senior crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
The findings of Operation Montecristo reveal that Fletcher used online betting accounts created in the names of NSW police officers in order to conceal his gambling activities from corporate bookmakers.
The wheeze was designed to circumvent restrictions that betting agencies place on successful professional punters.
Also, it is understood that Fletcher would have wanted to avoid the odds being reduced as a result of other gamblers following his bets.
Cunneen's son Stephen Wyllie was employed by Fletcher and the Sydney brothel keeper Eddie Hayson had also been a betting partner of the Professor.
Darren Azzopardi, Detective Senior Constable Anthony (Soup) Williams and Constable Marc Smith (who has since resigned from the police) were also involved in the scam.
The Police Integrity Commission recommended that fraud charges be considered against all four men.
Fairfax Media reports Cunneen introduced "Soup" Williams to Steve Fletcher in 2003. Williams and Fletcher also accompanied Stephen Wyllie to Las Vegas, for his 21st birthday.
In February 2012, Fletcher arranged to use Williams' online betting accounts to place bets, with the net profits to be split equally between the two of them. He also introduced Detective Williams to Darren Azzopardi.
Williams approached other officers he knew in the Tactical Operations Unit of the NSW Police, including Constable Marc Smith, asking if they had online accounts with Sportsbet and to secure their consent for those accounts to be used by Fletcher and Azzopardi.
Both Williams and Smith offered to pay individuals to provide personal details and identification so that betting accounts could be opened in their names but operated by the two professional gamblers.
PIC found Smith approached at least 13 colleagues from the TOU while Williams approached family members and a colleague from the Homicide Squad, Senior Constable Chris Groves.
After each betting account was opened, funds were deposited by Soup Williams or Constable Smith and used by Fletcher and Azzopardi to place bets.
After 13 days of hearings late last year, the commission has recommended criminal charges be laid against each of the men who orchestrated the fraud, under s.192E of the Crimes Act.
Fletcher was found to have engaged in misconduct by:
- Dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception;
- Engaging in deceptive conduct in relation to betting accounts;
- Using information obtained from employees within corporate bookmakers to facilitate the use of betting accounts in names other than his own and, in the process, compromising those employees;
- Possessing inside information when betting on a horse named Mosheen to lose in a horse racing event held on 20 October 2012.
PIC found Azzopardi engaged in misconduct by "dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception" in relation to the use of two bookmaker betting accounts.
Among other things, PIC found Detective Soup Williams engaged in police misconduct by:
- Providing betting accounts in the names of certain persons to Fletcher and/or to Azzopardi for their intended use in placing bets which Fletcher and/or Azzopardi could not otherwise place;
- Pretending to be his sister in email communications with the corporate bookmaker Luxbet;
- Using his influence over a police colleague (Groves) to cause that colleague to conduct himself in a manner contrary to the standards expected of a police officer;
- The attempt to obtain a free bet on a Luxbet betting account opened in the name of Groves by pretending to be Groves;
- Having a declarable association with Fletcher which was not declared.
The commission found Marc Smith engaged in police misconduct by:
- Dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception, in relation to the setting up of betting accounts in the names of the certain persons to obtain free bets;
- Providing his Sportingbet account to Azzopardi for the purpose of enabling Azzopardi to have bets placed which he could not place in his own name;
- Deceiving his police colleagues about the purpose of opening accounts in their names with corporate bookmakers;
- Using his influence over his colleagues to cause them to conduct themselves in a manner contrary to the standards expected of police officers;
- Having a declarable association with a professional gambler (Fletcher), which was not declared.
Regarding the other police officers whose names were used, the commission recommended disciplinary action under the Police Act, rather than criminal prosecution.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported several statements from Fletcher and Margaret Cunneen, in which they contradict each other on the extent and nature of their relationship.
In 2011 Cunneen said:
"I have met him [Fletcher] a few times. Quite frankly I don't want to have any public connection with him. That wouldn't assist me at the present time at all."
She could not remember the last time she met Fletcher, but when asked the same question by reporter Kate McClymont, he said that they were good friends and had seen Cunneen the previous day when she dropped her son off for work.
The crown prosecutor also said that in her position she had made it a policy for a long period of time not to mix with "shady" people.
She explained her attendance in 2009 at the launch of a book by disgraced former detective Roger Rogerson, who has since been charged with murder, saying:
"But I know Roger independently. I've known him since he was a detective. He was never convicted of anything while he was a police officer."
See: Operation Montecristo executive summary
See: Operation Montecristo full report