A WOMAN who was the victim of a romance scam and unwittingly allowed more than $164,000, stolen from other victims from around the world, to be laundered through her bank accounts has avoided a conviction in Newcastle District Court.
The case of R v Debra Lee-Ann Costelloe is like no other in NSW to date.
Costelloe, now 50, met "William Thompson", who claimed to be a UK-born, Sydney man in Ghana on business, on a singles website in 2014, started a long-distance relationship, promptly fell in love and began sending him money.
Costelloe estimates that over the next six years she sent him $50,000 from her superannuation fund as well as $1000 a fortnight on-and-off. She took out a number of personal loans, went bankrupt and was threatened with eviction a dozen times.
But what started as a typical romance scam became an usual and unprecedented case in NSW when Costelloe began receiving money scammed from victims around the globe.
Between August, 2014, and November, 2016, $164,000 passed through her accounts and was then wired by Costelloe to "William Thompson" via Western Union or MoneyGram.
Costelloe claims "William Thompson" told her he was dealing in gold and did not want to set up a Ghanaian bank account, so he had his investors transfer money into her accounts.
And despite being warned by her banks and the police that she was being scammed and was involved in money laundering, each time Costelloe went back to "William Thompson" who convinced her it was legitimate.
"She was so gullible and open to laundering money because she was in love with a man who she had not met, had a false identity and probably did not exist," Judge Penelope Wass said on Wednesday.
In ordering that she be placed on a conditional release order without conviction, Judge Wass said Costelloe was unwittingly lured into the scam and as a result had lost everything, including her dignity.