FOR decades, Maitland small business owners Allan and Diane Williams worked to build a sizable nest egg that would allow them to enjoy their retirement.
In late 2015 when they discovered their “trusted” accountant of 20 years, Ray Walker, had stolen more than $300,000 from their life savings, their initial reaction was disbelief.
But just as the magnitude of what Walker had done became clear, the Williams received a letter in the mail.
It was four days before Christmas.
The letter was an accounting bill requesting payment for services rendered by accountant David Woods, who worked alongside Walker.
“They told us that they had already started doing our tax and it was going to cost us $1000,” Mrs Williams said.
“We got a letter saying it was overdue and they wanted it paid immediately. It was just hideous. We lost so much and then got a bill.”
The Williams are among 70 creditors, mainly ageing Hunter residents, who trusted veteran Newcastle accountant Walker with their life savings and super funds. His known fraud is more $10 million.
Since news of the serial con man’s Ponzi scheme was made public in September, new victims keep coming forward.
With the knowledge that he was going to jail, Walker killed himself by “stab wound to the heart” at his $1.3 million holiday home at Soldiers Point in July 2015.
At the time of his death the 67-year-old was practising alongside fellow accountants including his son Brett, Michael Hart and Brett’s brother-in-law David Woods.
Brett and Ray Walker were in a formal partnership up to 2008 when a restructure saw accountants at the firm working in the same office but as separate legal entities.
Mr Woods said his business, DM Woods and Co, purchased clients from Ray Walker, including the Williams, back in 2014.
“I had no knowledge of the money that had been invested by those clients with Ray,” Mr Woods said.
“The work that I performed for them was accounting work which my business had performed and I was asking for my fees to be paid for that work.”
The Williams said they made it clear they wanted nothing more to do with the firm, but a few months later they received another letter in the mail.
This time it was an invitation to celebrate the opening of Brett Walker and David Woods’ new accounting venture, Active Accounting Group, based at Belmont and Broadmeadow.
"New brand. New Location. Same Vision," the invitation read.
Mrs Williams described the invitation to view Active Accounting Group's new "purpose-built offices" as offensive.
“They obviously kept our details and we were on a mailing list, but the whole thing was just so insensitive,” she said. “They wanted us to have drinks and celebrate their new business, while we’re still trying to get answers about what happened to our money.”
Mr Woods said he regretted them feeling upset and that it was not his intention.
Ray Walker had been the Williams’ accountant since the 1990s when he was recommended by a friend.
“We thought he was a bonza bloke, but now we know it was all crooked bonza,” Mr Williams said.
“We simply trusted him as our accountant. He was someone we knew a long time.”
As the years progressed, Walker’s confidence grew.
In 1999 he suggested that the Williams set up a self-managed super fund and the couple took his advice.
Mr Williams said it was some time later that Walker phoned him and suggested they look at a building purchase in Carrington, the old Cosmopolitan Hotel. They agreed and invested $30,000.
About two years later, Mr Williams said Brett Walker called and suggested they invest in a company called Spacet that was to make spacers to fit between wall and floor tiles. Brett Walker was a director of the company and Mr Williams agreed to invest $20,000.
“After some time we eventually called Brett to ask for the money back, we wanted to cash out because we wanted to go on a holiday and he told us it was gone,” Mr Williams said. “The company had gone broke and no-one told us.”
It wasn’t until after Ray Walker’s death that the Williams found out that the Cosmopolitan Hotel had been sold in 2014. Like many other investors, they had no idea, and once again their money was gone.
They also had no idea that
the complying pension Ray Walker “set up” within their self-managed super fund was never registered with Centrelink and did not exist.
“We went to Centrelink and they told us there was no record of the pension ever being established,” Mr Williams said. “Ray was just stealing the money.”
Mr Williams said it “took months and months” after Walker’s suicide for their financial records to be released.
“It was a disgrace,” he said. “Our new accountant had so much trouble getting the files it was ridiculous.”
Like many of Walker’s former clients, now victims, the Williams will never be able to make an economic recovery.
“The comfortable that we planned and worked hard for in our retirement is gone,” Mr Williams said. “The consequences of Ray’s actions are so far reaching. You really have to wonder where that $10 million has gone.”
The couple said the fraud had taken a “huge toll” on them financially and emotionally.
“We hope that our appliances don’t blow up, we planned and set things up so we wouldn’t have to worry about those things and Ray took all of that away,” Mrs Williams said.
“It’s taken away our ability to have our retirement lifestyle that we worked really hard for. Our children will not have any inheritance and yet Ray’s children will. We just don’t see how any of it is fair.”
The Williams, like many of Walker’s victims, are demanding answers from the Walker family.
They find it hard to believe that no-one was aware something untoward was going on.
“Ray wasn’t a man of courage, he was a total coward,” Mrs Williams said. “Why would a man with such a propensity for cowardice stab himself in the heart? None of it makes any sense, we really just want some answers about the whole mess.
“As horrible as this whole situation is, Ray’s won if we feel this terrible malice and hatred all the time, so we don’t.”
A four-day public examination into Walker’s financial affairs will be held in Sydney’s Federal Court in February next year.
Witnesses, including Walker’s son Brett, who worked alongside his father for more than 25 years, will face a public grilling.
Walker’s widow Jennifer, lawyer daughter Sarah and his longtime personal assistant Gayle Wheatley will also be questioned under oath.
Brett Walker declined to be interviewed, but has previously denied any knowledge of his father’s fraud and said he did not benefit from it.
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