Hay bale scammer took $40K from ‘desperate’ farmers

A "REPROBATE" Sydney man who admitted to ripping off drought-ravaged farmers desperately looking for cheap hay will likely be jailed after he pleaded guilty to fraud.

Police said inked-up Matthew Small, 27, advertised Lucerne hay bales on social media for a discounted price under a series of aliases and took more than $40,000 but never delivered the fodder as promised to 13 victims across rural NSW.

Court documents state the availability of Lucerne hay has become severely limited due to the drought, causing farmers to become "desperate" when trying to buy the product to keep their livestock alive.

 

Matthew Small, 27, advertised Lucerne hay bales on social media for a discounted price but never delivered. Picture: Facebook
Matthew Small, 27, advertised Lucerne hay bales on social media for a discounted price but never delivered. Picture: Facebook


After farmers contacted police Small was arrested in Villawood before facing Fairfield Local Court where Magistrate Theo Tsavdaridis refused him bail after finding a full-time custodial sentence was likely.

"(Small's offending) can be described as calculated, relentless and unscrupulous … it bears a high degree of deception" Mr Tsavdaridis said on Friday.

"It is reprobate, disingenuous behaviour targeting vulnerable members of the community against the backdrop of the financial struggles currently faced by those who have been affected by persistent drought conditions in rural NSW followed in part by the devastating bushfires."

 

NSW Police images of Mr Small during his arrest over a scam targeting the fraudulent sale of hay to drought-stricken farmers across NSW.
NSW Police images of Mr Small during his arrest over a scam targeting the fraudulent sale of hay to drought-stricken farmers across NSW.

After his arrest, Small told police he stole the identities and business details of friends and associates during the scam and had acted out of desperation to pay off a debt to someone associated with a bikie gang, according to the documents.

The court was told Small had also previously been convicted in absence for offences with a "similar modus operandi" where he offered firewood for sale but never delivered the goods after being paid.

He failed to appear in court on those matters and when police arrested him on Thursday he had four outstanding warrants and was also on a good behaviour bond relating to domestic violence offences.

"The defendant used social media, emails, Gumtree and other websites to offer for sale in some cases firewood and in other cases hay in circumstances where payment was received by him and in circumstances where there was never an intention to deliver," Mr Tsavdaridis said.

"(He) strung along those unsuspecting purchasers by telling them 'the truck is on it's way' or 'the truck will be leaving at 3am'."

According to the documents, police expect further victims of Small will be identified as the investigation digs deeper.

Small, who pleaded guilty to 14 counts of dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception over the hay bale scam, will remain behind bars before he is sentenced in March.

He hung his head in the dock and blew a kiss to his girlfriend before being led back into the cells.



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