A MASTERFUL networker and outwardly affluent, Lemuel Page, made his mark in Newcastle for two decades – and the marks were investors with large sums of money or tradesmen that didn’t get paid.
In July, Page’s lengthy career as one of Newcastle’s most notorious scam merchants came to a very public end when he was convicted of fraud in the Downing Centre Local Court and sentenced to at least eight months jail.
Page, a self-proclaimed “successful shares trader”, who regularly boasts of links to the notorious Sydney crime family the Ibrahims, appealed the sentence, was released on bail and is due to reappear before the Sydney District Court next month.
His fraud conviction was music to the ears of dozens of Hunter investors and tradespeople who trusted Page with their money, many who have agreed to speak publicly for the first time.
Across Newcastle, the only sound Page is used to hearing is the baying for blood, his blood, from the scores of people who have been left out of pocket from dealings with him.
Indeed, it’s hard to find anyone who has dealt with the former mobile phone salesman that he didn't either borrow or take money from, including his long-term partner, Newcastle podiatrist Renay Bull’s, family.
“Most of Renay’s family have lost huge amounts of money in dealings with Page,” a family friend said. “It’s hard to imagine how he can do that to anyone, let alone her family, and think it’s alright. It’s beyond belief.”
But now it seems that Page’s past has finally caught up with him. Since his conviction, the once-taut timbers of Page's dodgy empire are creaking with reproach and outright rage.
“A lot of people have lost their life savings with him and he just doesn’t care,” former Newcastle Knights player and property valuer Josh Smith said.
Page talked him into a development at Samdon St, Hamilton, converting an old nursing home into student accommodation.
Mr Smith bitterly regrets it now, but said he was an innocent party. He too lost money to Page. Smith said as a partner in the Hamilton property deal he put up $650,000 and had to spend about $50,000 in legal fees over four years to get it back.
He said he ended up having to pay several tradesmen who hadn’t been paid for the work they did on the job, leaving him a further $100,000 out of pocket. There are plenty more workers who are still owed.
“He’s a total grub,” Mr Smith said. “He preys on the fact that if you are well known in town then you’re not going to go telling people that he touched you up. And he fights you with lawyers, but he’s generally paying his legal fees with someone else’s money.”
Many of the scammed investors are no ordinary mums and dads, Page’s stings dragged in doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, developers and business owners.
Many handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars and have not seen their money since.
Former fraud squad detective Michael Gerondis, who helped bring down Page, said his victims’ embarrassment at being duped was a key to the mystery of how he managed to get away with it for so many years.
"Clearly he is very good at what he does," Mr Gerondis said. "He's ruined a lot of peoples lives. The biggest problem is his victims feel stupid and they don't want to say anything so he moves onto the next person."
Several tradesmen told Fairfax Media they became so desperate to be paid for work they did on Page’s development sites, they employed bikies as debt collectors. Others physically confronted him themselves.
“I got the bikies to go see him and he didn’t like it one little bit,” a tradesman, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “It was the only way I was going to get my money, money that I was legitimately owed for work I did. Page will happily go around town threatening anyone he can with his connection to the Ibrahims, but he doesn’t like it when he gets pushed back.”
Watson Demolition owner, Warren Watson, who was introduced to Page by two Newcastle builders he had done work for invested $300,000 and loaned money to the builders so they could invest too.
He said Page - a formidable name dropper - promised the world, but delivered nothing.
“Some people - like Lemuel - they take kindness as a weakness and that can backfire,” Mr Watson said. “He kept telling us he was at the bank, he was putting the cheque in our account, but he wasn’t. In the end we made it very clear to him that he had only one option and we got our money back. These type of people, they only speak one language.”
Many others weren’t so lucky. Like the Newcastle accountant who invested $150,000, his life savings, in a property deal and lost it.
The Newcastle real estate agent who loaned $150,000 to Page and failed Newcastle businessman Jacob Murphy in 2013 and is still fighting through the courts to get it back.
Or the Sydney orthodontist who lost millions and eventually brought Page unstuck after he took civil and criminal proceedings against the fraudster that saw him sentenced to jail.
Then there is the Newcastle couple owed more than $110,000 they invested in a Page property deal that he promised was a sure thing.
The woman who said Page was her boyfriend back in the 1990s when he took $17,000 of her parents money and $50,000 of hers. His cleaners, Ray and Teresa Henderson, who he cleaned out for $100,000, lawyers who never got paid and the list goes on.
In an effort to buy their silence, Page persists with the fiction, for as long as he can, that that they are going to get their money back. Needless to say, in most cases, no money arrives.
A worker told how frustrated tradesmen went to one of Page’s development sites and removed all the motors from the airconditioning units and held them as bargaining chips until they got paid.
Former Newcastle Jets coach Mark Jones declined to comment when asked about the money he reportedly invested in one of Page’s deals.
Sydney businessman Michael Goldstein was out of pocket more than $200,000 after investing in a unit development that never eventuated and a motor dealers business that never saw a return.
A great networker, Page would make contact – through a friend, associate, at parties, in cafes or in the gym – and use that contact to hit on other investors, trading on the trust between two friends.
Page told them he had a development opportunity, shares deal or needed a short-term loan. Several victims told how he “groomed” them for more than a year, his favourite haunts across the road from Ms Bull’s Happy Feet Podiatry practice, The Junction Hotel and Telulah café.
Page assured his victims that he had links with high profile real estate agents who in turn could get him access to some of the best property deals. A victim told how he boasted of paying a real estate agent $20,000 cash for the inside running on a deal.
Page would walk up to tradesmen he saw about The Junction or on job sites and introduce himself. The Page pitch became a familiar one as more victims came forward. “I’m a developer and I could use a bloke like you,” he’d tell them.
Builder Graham Horsfall met Page while working on a house in Phoenix Road, Black Hill, near a property owned by Ms Bull, where she keeps her horses. He went on to work at development sites in Cooks Hill, Carrington and Waratah, walking away more than $20,000 out of pocket.
"He threatened me with the Ibrahims, said if I kept hassling him for the money he owed me they'd pay me a visit," Mr Horsfall said. "Page is one of the biggest scumbags i've come across and there are plenty of them in the building industry."
To some he is known as Lemuel Cleary, to others as “Lemuel the Liar”.
Steven Bozinovski, who employed a debt collector to chase Page, said the mystery was how he managed to get away with it for so many years. “He owes so many people money and he drives around in his Mercedes and doesn’t give two hoots,” he said.
A Newcastle small business owner was left more than $20,000 out of pocket after Page claimed work he did wasn’t up to scratch, a common excuse he used not to pay contractors.
“The worst part of it is my wife didn’t like him from the get go and told me not to work for him,” he said. “Whether it’s $20,000 or $200 million, it’s the principal. I would rather give that money to charity than let someone like him rip me off.”
Several of Page’s Newcastle victims travelled to Sydney to observe his sentencing in July and plan to attend his appeal next month.
They are hoping that’s not the end of the story after more people have come forward and made complaints to police.
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Read more in Monday’s Herald.