A Portland doctor who changed his name after being caught with child porn has now admitted to swindling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his patients to fund a gambling addiction.
Abraham Stephanson, previously Stephanopoulos, 50, pleaded guilty in Warrnambool County Court on Tuesday to 17 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception and two counts of attempting to do the same.
The former Seaport Medical Centre doctor accepted nearly $800,000 from 17 patients and one local pharmacy employee between October 2019 and December 2020.
The court heard in victim impact statements that some elderly and vulnerable patients provided their life savings or superannuation to give money to their doctor of more than a decade.
Stephanson approached his victims and told them his father was undergoing life-saving cancer treatment in America, Israel or China and that he'd repay the funds as soon as possible.
But not a cent was provided to his father with the majority transferred into his Betfair online gambling account.
Stephanson obtained $792,000 over the 14-month period.
He has since repaid about 30 per cent of the funds.
More than $600,000 remains outstanding.
Prosecutor David O'Doherty said Stephanson's father was diagnosed with cancer but plans to undergo a specialist medical trial in China were derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said Stephanson's father told police he'd always paid for his own treatment and never asked for or accepted money from anyone, including his son.
One patient in a victim impact statement said she had agreed to help because her own father had died of cancer.
Now $10,000 is gone and her and her husband's travel dreams are put on hold, she wrote.
Another patient said he trusted Stephanson who knew of the tragic loss of his three young children, as well as a high-impact accident affecting his wife.
"Yet you still decided to scam us," he said.
The court heard Stephanson accepted $70,000, or 30 per cent of one patient's superannuation just months before he was set to retire.
That victim said he never expected his "competent and reliable" doctor of 10 years would deceive him and that his trust in people had since evaporated.
Another said when she heard of her doctor's "disgusting and pitiful" scam, she cried and screamed.
"I have suffered adverse tragedy and trauma but nothing as cold and calculated as what you've done," she said.
Almost all of the victims said they didn't think they'd ever trust properly again.
The court heard Stephanson met his victims at the medical clinic or arranged for payment over the phone or via email.
He drew up loan agreements, which didn't have any terms and conditions, before accepting funds ranging between $10,000 and $120,000.
He also attempted to obtain $25,000 in funds but was unsuccessful.
In December 2020, two male victims were contacted by Portland's National Australia Bank and advised of an investigation by the organisation's fraud department.
Stephanson was arrested at his Portland home on December 24 that year.
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In a police interview, he agreed his father didn't travel overseas and he lied so his victims would believe him.
He said he approached patients he thought he had a close connection with and would trust him to pay the funds back.
Abbie J Roodenburg, representing Stephanson, said her client knew "full well" the breach of his victim's trust, which occurred in the context of a doctor-patient relationship.
She said Stephanson expressed his "deep regret for his actions and remorse for the suffering he has caused".
Ms Roodenburg said Stephanson moved to Portland in 2009 following a name change after being convicted of possessing child pornography in the early 2000s.
She said Stephanson successfully fought to keep his medical registration, which included a condition to not treat anyone under 18.
But Ms Roodenburg said Portland soon learnt of Stephanson's past and he was subjected to threats, graffiti and physical assaults.
She said Stephanson believed gambling made him feel less isolated but soon the addiction spiralled out of control.
Ms Roodenburg said her client intended to sell his house, which was located on a four-acre 1870s heritage garden in Portland, for about $1.57 million.
She said all of the profits made from the sale would be used to repay Stephanson's victims.
The plea hearing will continue on June 8.
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