A baker who tinkered with foreign currency trading while working as a safety electrician at a major Melbourne train station has now admitted to defrauding almost $3 million from duped investors.
Robert Frederick Ingbritsen was "Bob the spotter" during Southern Cross Railway Station's redevelopment when he induced 32 people to invest large amounts of money.
Now "baker Bobby" at the Abbotsford Convent, Ingbritsen, 60, has pleaded guilty to charges involving a "ponzi" scheme.
A County Court judge on Tuesday described as "extraordinary" the 800 per cent return promised to one investor as "like the inflation in Zimbabwe".
Judge Mark Dean said also that the investors "must have suspected that something illegal was taking place ... currencies don't fluctuate in that manner".
Prosecutor Mark Regan said Ingbritsen induced people to contribute substantial sums of money into a Bendigo Bank account for the ostensible purpose of investing in foreign exchange trades with a legitimate trading entity called IGM Markets.
Mr Regan said contributions to Ingbritsen's scheme totalled $2.9 million of which slightly less than half was placed with IGM.
He said Ingbritsen in 2005 worked at the station as an electrical spotter and had "developed a sideline of currency trading" and operated a bank account that traded as "Bob the spotter".
There were three "original investors", Mr Regan said in his opening — work colleague Mel Cucinotta, his uncle Vittorio "uncle Vic" Viglione and friends Angeline and Andrew Harris - who contributed a total of $347,000.
Mr Regan said that during the life of the scheme, between 2007 and 2010, Ingbritsen made payments of $400,000 to Mr Cucinotta, $292,000 to Mr Viglione and $820,000 to Ms Harris.
"The huge returns bestowed on the three original investors by Ingbritsen encouraged them to become unwitting promoters of the scheme to their family and friends," he said.
Mr Regan added: "It is not suggested that the three original investors were accomplices of Ingbritsen, because the scheme was his and his alone and he alone controlled the Bob the spotters bank account and the IMG foreign exchange trading account.
"No-one else was in any position to have the overview Ingbritsen had."
He added that none of the three original investors, or any of the later ones, were or could have been aware that Ingbritsen was "robbing Peter to pay Paul" and that what people "believed to be lavish returns" on investment was just "unauthorised redistribution of much of the funds coming from downstream investors".
Judge Dean heard that a key characteristic of the scheme was that Ingbritsen provided "rather crude" account statements to investors that showed "massive accumulating paper profits".
Judge Dean responded that one investor "must have been staggered, to say the least" at the 700 percent increase in three years and expressed surprise that "no questions were asked".
It was conceded by Mr Regan that there was no evidence that Ingbritsen enriched himself personally and there were "no flash cars, no properties on the Gold Coast".
Judge Dean acknowledged the impact on the victims of Ingbritsen's offending that included significant financial losses, emotional devastation and that some marriages were "placed under strain".
Defence barrister Jennifer Clark said that Ingbritsen, a father of two, had worked hard all his life in the electrical field and then baking without much success.
Ms Clark said he had not established an "elaborate scheme to draw people in", but was trading modestly for himself in foreign exchange until he "put his foot on a slipper slope" that he was unable to get off.
From the moment Ingbritsen took money "he was rapidly in over his head and he had some belief ... probably misplaced that he could trade successfully", she said.
Ingbritsen, of Preston, was remanded in custody for sentencing next week.