Buying a green velvet couch off eBay for $280 seemed like a bargain to Kate. Little did she know it would cost her $80,000, and that two ginger cats would be hers as part of the deal.
Kate, who declined to use her real name, has spent two years pursuing Henry Alfred Goolsbee, an American living in Beaumaris, who claimed to be an archbishop able to turn salt water into a super-fertiliser.
Goolsbee said he would double Kate's life savings if she invested in a novel he was writing in a series about Mary Magdalene.
He first befriended Kate, from St Kilda, when she went to pick up the couch she'd bought from his house in June 2010.
She met his three children, his Japanese wife and their cat Sarah, which was particularly fond of her.
Over the course of several meetings, Goolsbee said he used to spend time with Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie in the US, had set up co-operatives in developing countries and had started a multimillion dollar business that had been cruelly snatched away from him in South Australia.
Kate, 61, agreed to look after Sarah the cat while Goolsbee and his family moved to New Zealand. When she went to pick her up, Goolsbee's son was holding another cat, Leo, which she also agreed to look after until they were settled.
After all, what was another cat when Goolsbee had promised Kate a job and her first holiday in 30 years — once he had re-established his revolutionary fertiliser business in New Zealand?
Within three months of the Goolsbees leaving town, Kate realised she had been scammed. She reported Goolsbee's name and New Zealand address to police in St Kilda, hoping to bring him to justice.
But she was left frustrated after being referred on to three different stations and departments, only to be told in December, 2010, that nothing could be done. She passed the same information to New Zealand police and Goolsbee was arrested within a month.
He was sentenced on Tuesday in the Nelson District Court to jail for two years and three months for obtaining $80,000 by deception, but will be eligible for parole in nine months.
Judge Michael Behrens said he did not believe that Goolsbee, who represented himself, was truly remorseful and it appeared he had offended in order to live a life of luxury.
Goolsbee is likely to be extradited to the United States after serving his sentence over an outstanding felony assault charge from the 1980s. Goolsbee fled California after posting a $40,000 bail.
Kate said Goolsbee had manipulated her love for animals and trusting nature.
His children, two daughters and a son aged under 15, had called Kate from New Zealand to say how excited they were about their cats joining them, and she had been responsible for returning their library books after they left.
The librarian had gushed over the "beautiful" Goolsbee family, and Kate had often been driven between Beaumaris and her house by their driver, Mustafa.
"The web of lies was extensive and he had all the documents to back up what he was saying," Kate said.
"I was sucked in so badly. I know now why he and his wife were so interested in everything that I did. They were planning on using it all against me."
Kate, who did not want to use her name because of the embarrassment of being scammed, said it had been crushing when Victoria Police ignored her reports. A Victoria Police spokeswoman was unable to comment on her case.
The actions of the fraud section, to which Kate was referred, were criticised in April last year by County Court judge Michael McInerney when it was found they had refused to investigate a $1.1 million fraud.
A police spokeswoman said fraud complaints were now "triaged" by a designated officer following a review of last year's case.
A panel of officers then discussed which area would handle each complaint.
"These changes ensure we have a more formal and accountable process to determine who will investigate crimes," she said.
St Kilda legal service lawyer Jon Risby, who represented Kate, said it was disappointing Victoria Police had ignored her because it considered the scam a civil matter.
"This is a case of a Victorian resident being taken for a ride and being defrauded of her life savings – you'd think the police would at least investigate the matter," he said.
Kate has since donated the couch to charity and given the cats to a woman whose own ginger cat died.
She hopes to get some of her money back, but says her motivation for pursuing Goolsbee was never financial.
"That's always the hope [of recouping the money], but now that he has been found guilty and sentenced I just want to get on with my life," she said.
"To me it seemed like they were a really beautiful family who had some things go wrong for them and wanted to start again.
"But they took everything. And the last few years have been a living nightmare."