Police have questioned a smooth-talking Melbourne man, who allegedly has the ear of the Queen, following claims that he scammed almost $1 million from victims in Victoria and Tasmania.
Victims say the plummy-voiced 50-year-old has also claimed that he is part of an exclusive and secretive brotherhood of retired judges, QB10 (Queen's best 10).
Police have confirmed that they are investigating a series of reported deceptions that occurred between February 2010 and May 2011.
"A 50-year-old Melbourne man was arrested on April 13 and was released pending further inquiries. The investigation is ongoing," a police spokeswoman said.
Two of at least 15 alleged victims told The Age that they had been duped by a man called Shane Straussman, who had a good knowledge of the law and rattles off the names of former judges like they are his close friends.
Tony Murdaca, a Melbourne businessman, says he was taken in by the alleged grifter, whom he introduced to business associates. Mr Murdaca says he then fleeced them.
Mr Murdaca, who runs several companies, including the International Vehicle Integrity Centre in Melbourne, said Straussman contacted him after he launched a private prosecution against insurer AAMI. He said he could help him.
Mr Murdaca said he spent up to $500,000 on the criminal case against AAMI before it was thrown out.
The company director was impressed with Straussman, who claimed to be part of a board that had looked at the case, and promised to turn things around for him.
"Straussman was very plausible and he knew a great deal about my affairs," Mr Murdaca said.
He said the "activities of QB10 were conducted in secret, but were authorised at the highest levels of government".
The car repair industry expert had lost heavily in his legal fight with AAMI, and when Straussman told him he had the power to revive his finances, he was hooked.
Mr Murdaca said he received up to $35,000 in progressive payments, but believes they were part of an elaborate sting to give the "former judge" credibility with the company director's business friends.
One of those friends runs an engineering business in Tasmania.
Brennan Fitzallen was allegedly told by the same man that he had connections in the rail industry and that they were involved in building a rail network in that state.
When Mr Fitzallen was allegedly offered the post of managing director by Straussman, he thought he was on the right track.
It got even better when he was allegedly told that Her Royal Highness was funding the project and he would have to meet her at Balmoral to sign the $525 million deal.
"He said there would be a handing-over ceremony with the Queen, as she was interested in that sort of thing and was qualified as an engine driver, and I went along with it, " Mr Fitzallen said from Tasmania.
"I was to be commissioned to manage the project and receive an OBE for services to the rail system."
Then, he said, came the "'cash only"' demand for $60,000 as a "goodwill gesture", which eventually increased to a total of $250,000 to "assist with legal matters".
It was money that Mr Fitzallen did not have, so he borrowed from friends.
He was confident that he would get it because Straussman allegedly told him he would be meeting Prince William on "QB 10 matters" and everything would be sorted.
The Tasmanian's hopes then appeared to receive a royal lift.
"I received a text from the Queen, via a member of the QB10 board," Mr Fitzallen said.
He said he eventually realised that he was the victim of an elaborate hoax.
"He gives the impression that he is some sort of royalty ... he also conducts himself like a high court judge. I think it's just a fraud, a scam, he plays the role and he plays it well," he said.
Mr Fitzallen and Mr Murdaca and others have lodged statutory declarations with Victoria Police about Straussman.
Mr Murdaca believes at least 14 of his associates have been swindled by Straussman, from around $3000 to $250,000.
The telephone number for Mr Straussman, provided by victims, has been disconnected.