Inside Melbourne woman’s role in multimillion-dollar fraud syndicate

Striding through Melbourne‘s legal precinct in a skin-tight black dress and designer sunglasses, Jasmine Vella-Arpaci might have been mistaken for any number of the city’s intelligent and ambitious young professionals.

But on the morning of December 16, Ms Vella-Arpaci, a 24-year-old hairdresser and mother, wasn’t catching a breath of fresh air before returning to her desk at one of the many nearby law firms or barristers’ chambers on William St in Melbourne.

Instead, she was walking to the County Court of Victoria, her Kardashian-esque attire and body language inconspicuous amid the high-end surroundings, where she was to be sentenced for her central role in a multimillion-dollar fraud syndicate which stretched from Hong to the US, preying on some of the most vulnerable Australians.

Camera IconYoung Melbourne mother Jasmine Vella-Arpaci played a central role in an international fraud syndicate which stole millions from victims’ superannuation accounts. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

On that sunny December morning, the process which began when Ms Vella-Arpaci was arrested in April 2019 at Melbourne Airport on her return from a bout of cosmetic surgery in Turkey, was to end with the deceptively confident young woman staring imploringly at Judge Fiona Todd, her hands clasped on her lap, and the reality sinking in that she will be absent for at least four of some of her child’s most formative years.

What led her to play a lead role in stealing more than $3m in superannuation from 20 victims, some of whom were in their late 80s and early 90s, from the age of 19 to 21 wasn’t explicitly stated in court.

Her defence council had previously submitted that Ms Vella-Arpaci, whose humble upbringing included an education at Rose Hill Secondary College in Melbourne’s north western suburbs, was not living a luxurious existence on the proceeds of her crimes – an argument Judge Todd accepted.

Vella-Arpaci’s access to stolen documents was critical in the deception of superannuation funds, prosecutors said.
Camera IconVella-Arpaci’s access to stolen documents was critical in the deception of superannuation funds, prosecutors said. Credit: Supplied

The father of her child, now imprisoned for what the court was told was a significant amount of time, was a chronic gambler who relied on Ms Vella-Arpaci to fund his addiction.

She had struggled with her weight and endured a combative relationship with her mother, the court heard, a life which wasn’t any easier at school.

By the time was charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud and one count of conspiracy to deal with the proceeds of crime, she was taking as many as 10 pills a day – an assortment of valium, benzodiazepine and xanax.

Ms Vella-Arpaci used the proceeds of her crime partially to support her husband’s gambling addiction, the County Court of Victoria heard last Friday.
Camera IconMs Vella-Arpaci used the proceeds of her crime partially to support her husband’s gambling addiction, the County Court of Victoria heard last Friday. Credit: Supplied

Somewhere in the midst of her turbulent life, the seed had been sown to become someone who, despite their earlier struggles, would find their wings deep in the mire of the dark web.

When Ms Vella-Arpaci arrived at Melbourne Airport in April 2019, Australian Federal Police officers seized mobile phones and a laptop, which proved to be key in unlocking the mystery behind the missing superannuation millions.

A central piece of evidence contained on these laptops was a series of Telegram conversations Ms Vella-Arpaci had been having over the past year, specifically with a person known as “H”, based in Hong Kong, and “Elvy X” or “James”, most likely based in the US, along with “Steven Rocks” and “Kevin Butwell”.

Vella-Arpaci herself went by “Binja Bob” or “Telham”.

The group’s modus operandi seemed simple enough and records of the conversations show the painstaking lengths involved in trying to avoid detection and thus crack the security of big super funds, including Hostplus, AustralianSuper and Cbus.

The lengthy prosecution brief, which ran to more than 40 pages, set out how the syndicate would start off in the place all good scammers do: purchasing stolen ID documents from the dark web, editing them as necessary to match one another, before using them to open bank accounts and to support applications to withdraw money from super accounts.

Camera IconJasmine Vella-Arpaci (left) attending court in October. NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly Credit: News Corp Australia

In this process, Ms Vella-Arpaci would obtain the “bulk” of the stolen identity documents through dark web marketplace “Dream Market”. She would extract further personal information belonging to the victim by training an accomplice to submit doctored passports and Medicare details to Equifax, with the subsequent credit reports disclosing vital information such as drivers’ license numbers.

Another weapon in the syndicate’s arsenal was a sophisticated “phishing” scam, which would appear online purporting to be an advertisement from a legitimate super fund, which once clicked on would direct victims to a fake login site where they entered their account details.

She would send the fake debit cards, of which Westpac was favoured due to its easy facilitation of “very large” debit transactions, to “H” in Hong Kong, and at times notify the bank the account holder was overseas so as not to raise alarms over possible fraud.

Camera IconJasmine Vella-Arpaci (left) won’t be eligible for parole until December 2026. NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly Credit: News Corp Australia

“It’s pretty fkn awesome; I’m super happy and excited to be a part of it,” Ms Vella-Arpaci, or “Binja Bob” told “Steven Rocks” on 2019.

The final piece of the puzzle and the last hurdle for the syndicate to overcome was how to launder the money it illegally withdrew.

Prosecution documents show Ms Vella-Arpaci would send the debit cards to “H” in Hong Kong via FedEx, who arranged for an accomplice known as “The Swiper” to buy goods, mostly high-end jewellery, from various merchants in Hong Kong, who took their cut of one third of the proceeds once the goods were sold.

The total of the “Hong Kong transactions” was more than two-and-a-half million dollars.

In her sentencing remarks, Judge Todd said Ms Vella-Arpaci had been enthusiastic and disciplined throughout, and went to sophisticated lengths to avoid detection.

A telling point in her lengthy remarks was when she told Ms Vella-Arpaci she had shown a “complete disregard for the peoples’ lives she was unrevalling.”

The co-conspirators remain at large.

At the conclusion of Ms Vella-Arpaci’s hearing, friends and family members shed tears outside the court, lamenting the length of time she will now be absent from the life of her young child.

Vella-Arpaci, for her part, may well be wondering whether, in the end, it was all worth it.

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