For years, Australian businessman Lemuel Page spun a web of deceit involving failed investments that left him owing friends and former associates A$17 million (NZ$18m).
But in the end it was a cheap cubic zirconia ring that landed the property developer-turned-fraudster in jail.
The 48-year-old Mercedes-driving businessman’s past includes a shareholder arrangement with ex-bikie boss Sam Ibrahim, the oldest brother of Sydney nightclub owner John Ibrahim.
Page graced the news pages in 2010 when he was in a costly stoush with council over a bid to redevelop the former Lynch’s Prawn Site in Newcastle.
His unreported history can now be detailed after one of his deals, in which he sold his friend a fake diamond ring for A$85,000, sheds light on his tumultuous past.
Page, a self-proclaimed “successful shares trader” who lives in Newcastle, was jailed for at least eight months on July 6 after he was convicted of fraud in the Downing Centre Local Court.
However, he was granted bail days later after lodging an appeal.
In 2011, a close friend confided to Page that he had proposed to his partner without an engagement ring.
Page told his friend he could source a diamond worth between A$200,000 and A$250,000 for a wholesale price of A$85,000, according to a statement of facts tendered in court.
Fairfax Media contacted the friend, who agreed to speak on the basis of anonymity. He explained how he gave Page the amount in three different transactions.
Under Page’s instructions, A$50,000 was transferred into Page’s then-wife’s account and a A$35,000 cheque was made out to his development company, Elefteria Pty Ltd. His wife had no knowledge of the fraud.
Evidence presented in court showed subsequent account withdrawals were traced to Mykonos in the Greek Islands, where Page was basking in the European sun with his girlfriend, a Newcastle-based podiatrist.
The friend said Page “delayed, delayed, delayed” before he finally delivered the dazzling diamond he gave to his fiancee in October 2011.
“What was meant to be one of the best moments of our lives, the most important gift I would ever give to my wife, turned out to be tarnished forever,” the friend said.
The couple were shattered when a Sydney-based jeweller informed them the diamond was a fake.
“It was one of the worst days of our lives,” he said.
“Our hearts sank. [My partner] collapsed to the floor in tears but I picked her up and said ‘let’s get another opinion’.
“We went to another jewellery store and they confirmed the same.”
Years later, after Page was charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, it emerged he had asked another jeweller to fit a cubic zirconia into an engagement ring. The process cost A$1500.
He then gave it to his friend, a man he had shared many dinners and conversations with over the years. The couple never got their money back.
Despite being sentenced to 12 months’ jail, with a non-parole period of eight months, Page was granted bail days later after lodging an appeal.
He left the humble surrounds of a jail cell and returned to a beachfront apartment in Newcastle, emerging daily in a black Mercedes SUV, worth of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to report for bail.
It is not the first time people have been left severely out of pocket by Page’s actions.
He managed to crawl back from the brink of bankruptcy last year as creditors pursued him for A$17 million.
Documents showed some funds were lent to Page by business associates while other sums were invested with him in the belief shares in a company or development would be purchased.
Despite his luxurious lifestyle, Page claimed to have no real estate interests and only cars that he owed the bank a lot of money for.
In a report prepared by trustee Geoffrey McDonald in 2015, Page’s supposed dire state of affairs was traced back to adverse legal action, excessive interest payments and a failed business deal with Sam Ibrahim in 2013.
This venture involved the same company, Elefteria Pty Ltd, that was involved in the fake ring scam.
This company was linked to a well-publicised dispute involving mining company Silver City Drilling. According to the trustee report, Page was a silent shareholder through Ibrahim and Silver City director Nathan Wilson.
Elefteria also leased mining equipment to the Port Macquarie-based firm.
A potentially lucrative A$20 million deal by Silver City in 2013 fell apart after Ibrahim, who claimed to be a large shareholder, threatened to kill Wilson, his wife and children.
Ibrahim, who is in jail for his role in a gun supply ring, then stood over Mr Wilson and demanded A$3.72 million. The stoush killed the A$20 million deal.
Ibrahim, a former Nomads bikie, was jailed for 16 months for the death threats in 2014.
When contacted on Thursday, McDonald, the trustee involved in Page’s bankruptcy proceedings, confirmed Page signed a A$180,000 personal insolvency agreement in November 2016 and was now out of bankruptcy.