NOTORIOUS con man Lemuel John Page has cashed in his “good character” to stay out of jail, successfully appealing against a 12-month sentence he received for selling a friend a fake diamond ring.
Page, 48, walked free from Sydney Downing Centre District Court on Wednesday after Judge Julia Baly, SC, found the sentence imposed in the local court was “overly harsh” given Page’s “good character” and lack of criminal record.
The decision, and subsequent finding by Judge Baly that the fraud offences were “out of character” for Page, was too much for a dozen or so of Page’s victims, who at one point let out a collective groan in the public gallery.
The group, among those who have come forward since news broke of Page’s conviction last year to allege decades of deception, were left shocked and “devastated” when Page’s appeal was upheld and he was re-sentenced to a 12-month suspended jail term.
Page was jailed for a maximum of 12 months, with a non-parole of eight months after he was found guilty of two counts of dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception after a three-day hearing last year.
He spent five days in custody before he lodged an appeal and was granted bail.
“It was a fairly stern sentence,” Judge Baly said.
“In circumstances where Mr Page, a man in his late 40s, has not previously offended...”
Judge Baly was cut off by a loud groan from the public gallery, where other complainants had gathered, hopeful that Page would finally be sent to jail.
Michael Goldstein, a Sydney property developer who took legal action against Page after he invested $2 million in a unit development that never eventuated and a motor dealers business that never saw a return, was so incensed that he asked to address the court.
“Who are you,” Judge Baly asked. “I am a victim of this man as are all these people,” Mr Goldstein replied.
“No you cannot, you have no standing here,” Judge Baly said. “If there is any further outcries you will be asked to leave the court.”
Page told the victim, a Sydney orthodontist, in May, 2011, that he could source him a diamond engagement ring worth $200,000-$250,000 for a wholesale price of $85,000.
Under Page's instructions, $50,000 was transferred into Page's then-wife's account and a $35,000 cheque was made out to his development company, Elefteria Pty Ltd.
His wife had no knowledge of the fraud. Page eventually delivered the ring to his friend's fiancee in October, 2011.
However, in November, the soon-to-wed couple took the ring to a jeweller and discovered Page had a cubic zirconia fitted into an engagement ring rather than the real deal.
The fake ring was worth about $1500 and was made in the Hunter.
“It involved a significant betrayal of trust and a significant amount of money,” Judge Baly said of the fraud.
But top Sydney silk Bret Walker, SC, who represented Page and reportedly charges $14,000 a day, told Judge Baly that his client now accepted his guilt and was remorseful for betraying his friend.
“It is a case of better late than never,” Mr Walker said of Page’s contrition.
And despite the many people who have since come forward to complain of being defrauded or swindled by Page, Mr Walker said “specific deterrence” was not relevant during sentencing due to Page’s unblemished criminal record.
Those gathered, hopeful of seeing Page pay for the diamond ring fraud, lamented the cruel irony of the justice system that the con man or fraudster can claim the benefit of having “good character”.
Mr Walker also handed up an array of references from Newcastle business people, accountants, real estate agents and doctors who all declared the fraud offences for which Page had been convicted were completely “out of character”.
Page had initially lodged an all-grounds appeal against his fraud convictions, but abandoned that on Wednesday and focused solely on the severity of his jail term, ultimately convincing Judge Baly that he could serve his sentence in the community.
“In my view the magistrate's sentence was indeed overly harsh given [Page's] lack of criminal record.”