Government watchdogs and professional bodies accused of not doing enough to stop conman accountant Ray Walker fleecing clients of $10 million

CONMAN: Fraudster Newcastle accountant Ray Walker who stole more than $10 million from clients.RAY Walker appeared to be a typical suburban accountant, spending his days handling business and tax affairs for clients in offices across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

Walker and his wife of 40-years, Jennifer, lived very comfortably in a $1.6million house in an upmarket area of Hamilton South.

He liked European cars, she liked to shop, he sent their children and grandchildren to private schools, they regularly holidayed overseas and had a $1.3 million holiday unit on the beach at Port Stephens.

But warning signs that Walker could be bank-rolling his lifestyle by pilfering from his clientswere visible to authorities and professional bodies, and many suggest, others around him, well before he committed suicide in 2015.Allegations of serious professional and financial misconduct had dogged Walker for decades. Yet, Walker was allowed to continue to practise, ultimately stealing more than $10 million from 70 clients.

Lake Macquarie carpenter Richard Galloway lostmore than $300,000, his entire retirement savings, to Walker. MrGalloway saidWalker was givensecond, third and fourth chances by a regulatory system that appears reluctantto publicly blow the whistle and end the career of dodgy operators.

“There werea series of failures by government organisations and licencing bodies that are meant to protect the public,” he said.

“Where are the checks and balances in the system? This guy had a long history of getting into strife and we had absolutely no idea, the public is not being protected because the system does not work.”

Walker’sdisciplinary record was already marred as far back as the early 1990s for bad conduct when he was brought before the Company Auditors and Liquidators Board where his registration as an auditor was cancelled in October 1992.He was also banned by the n Securities and Investments Commission from managing a corporation for five years from September 1991.

Retired chartered accountant, Peter Hicks, who hasattendedFederal Court bankruptcy hearingsin Sydney this year into Walker’s estate, said he became aware of Walker being involved in money laundering in the1980s.

Mr Hicks, who was appointed liquidator of Walker’s building company – Sepega Building Supplies – on the petition of the n Taxation Office, said Walker had beenrippingpeople off for decades.

During investigations of Sepega, Mr Hicks uncovered cash transactions going through Walker’s trust account, he reported it to police who executed a search warrant and discoveredWalker wasinvolvedin money laundering.

DEVASTATED: Richard Galloway,of Lake Macquarie, who lost more than $300,000, believes more should have been done to stop Walker.

“The business model made no sense to me as it was a building company with no qualified builder,” Mr Hicks said.“Included in the list of creditors were about half a dozen retired coal miners who relied onWalkerandhad no idea of the risk they had assumed.

“I did not refer theRayWalkermoney laundering to the ATO or the Tax Agents Board, which I now regret.”

A complaint was made to the Institute of Chartered Accountants andWalker was found guilty in 1990 of“failureto observe a proper standard of professional care, skill or competence” and fined $1000.

An investigation revealed he “intermingled his clients’ and personal affairs” in the RE Walker Trust Account.

Newcastle solicitor Rob Brook, who represents many of Walker’s victims, described the punishment as “less than a slap on the wrist”. Mr Brook said the professional body, renamed Chartered Accountants and New Zealand (CAANZ), laterrewarded Walker by promoting him from a regular member to a fellow.

“At the time he was using his front as a respectable accountant to advise clients to deposit tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars into his trust account,” he said. “The hundreds of thousands in client money misappropriated by Walker turned into millions over years.”

The exact number of complaints made against Walker to regulatory and professional bodies isunclearbecause the majorityofdealings are confidential.

The Herald is aware of oneclient who made a complaint about Walker, not long before hisdeath, to the Financial Ombudsman Service .

Another complaint was lodged with the ombudsman in July 2008 in relation to a company that was co-directed by Ray Walker and his accountant son Brett Walker, Capital Asset Investments Limited.

The companyserved to filter huge sums of client funds stolen by Ray Walker.

BUSINESS PARTNER: Brett Walker, who said he knew nothing of his father’s fraud, and his wife, Renee.

In November 2011, a furthercomplaint about Capital Assets Investments Limited, was lodged with the Financial Industry Complaints Service. Brett Walker has said he knew nothing abouthis father’s fraud and did not benefit from it.

Ray Walker’s victims said if they had any idea of the rogue accountant’spast, they would never have given him a cent or used him as their accountant. They believe there should be a public register detailingall adverse findings against accountants.

Amid the deluge of client files, company documents and legal letters surrounding the collapse of Ray Walker’s $10 million Ponzi scheme, there wasa client email in 2013.A disgruntledBrisbane-based client wroteto Brett Walker, who worked alongside his fatherfor more than 25 years, raising concern about money he had invested in one of Ray Walker’s schemes.

The clientwas unhappy about the lack of detail supplied by Ray Walker aboutmoney, invested through aself managed super fund, in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, at Carrington.Repeatedly unable to get a response from Ray Walker, who managed the investment, the clientaskedBrett Walker for help.

DEMANDING ANSWERS: Jim Todhunter, who lost $200,000, said the system did nothing to protect victims.

“Note: I would really like to see the booksandhave them audited as it all appears rather dodgyandthe whole thing has an odour to it,” hewroteto Brett Walker on December 5, 2013. “Can you organise an official audit of the books for this trust?”

The chicanery the client was talking about was indeed real. Ray Walker’sclients lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in aunittrust afterhe sold the central asset, the former Cosmopolitan Hotel,without their knowledge.

Jim Todhunter, ofHamilton South, lost $200,000 in the unit trust thatpromisedannual returns of 5.2 per cent.Mr Todhunterinvested via Ray Walker $100,000 from his super and another $100,000 on behalf of his daughter who has autism. Walker had been his accountant for 31 years.

He said the $10 million fraud should have been uncovered sooner but too many people failed to act on complaints and telltale signs.

“We were let down by the inaction of the regulatory authorities and professional bodies,” he said.“If I had any idea Walker had complaints against him, there is no way I would have given him money, none of us would. We were completelyin the dark.”

Despite a veneer of professionalism,Walker’s business was a wobbly amalgam of clients who he befriended over decades so he could take advantage of them.In somecases the closer the friend, the bigger the fraud.

Carol McKinstry, formerly of Hamilton, lost $350,000 from her superannuation. The 71-year-old, who shared many a meal with Walker, will now not be enjoying the retirement she planned. “It’s far from funny to be 71 and suddenly have your security blanket ripped out from underneath you,” Mrs McKinstry said. “It seems like the money vanished from the moment he got it. It’s too depressing to even think about.”

Since Walker’s suicide inJuly, 2015, there are plenty of theories around about how he got away with it for so long, but the bottom line is that he fooled people based on his reputation, that appeared to many unblemished, and lengthy association with them.

MrsWalker told the Federal Court she was unaware of the source of her husband’s wealth, stating he handled their finances and“if he said we could afford it, naturally I believed him”.

Many of Walker’s victims attended hisfuneral unaware their money had been frittered away. A Hamilton man,wholost$300,000, wrote a glowing tributein Walker’sfuneral guest book.

ANGRY: Carol McKinstry, who lost more than $350,000, said Walker was a master of deceit.

“I knew Ray for 20 years and he consistently proved himself a stalwart friend, confidanteand professional. He was as genuine a person I’ve met and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

For something that lasted decades it certainly unravelled fast. Walker’s estate is all but worthless andunlessthe ongoing bankruptcy trustee investigation can identify a way for creditors to access funds, theylook likely to get virtually nothing.

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