A woman who lived at Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, conned almost A$800,000 (NZ$862,527) from men she met on Tinder and spent it on gambling.
Jocelyn Zakhour fell into heavy gambling in an attempt to pay back her parents, after her ex-husband allegedly kidnapped her in the Middle East and ransomed her for A$400,000, (NZ$436,382) a court heard.
Soon she was hanging out with “high rollers” and conning men who thought she was their girlfriend out of money that she said was to fund a blueberry farm.
She told police it was her victims’ fault and she didn’t feel sorry for them because they were “so stupid”.
The 41-year-old was jailed for four years and six months with two years and eight months non-parole for her “false promises”, County Court of Victoria judge Gregory Lyons said on Tuesday.
Zakhour was 39 when she started chatting with a 54-year-old chief executive on Tinder in June 2018, quickly forming a relationship with the man.
They were only together for a week when she brought up her idea of buying a blueberry farm in NSW – which never existed, Judge Lyon said.
Zakhour also sold the man a lie about importing cigarettes to get more money out of him.
The chief executive believed he was giving his girlfriend money for seeds, farm worker salaries and harvests.
He transferred A$728,700 (NZ$787,833) to her in amounts varying from A$1500 (NZ$1621) to A$110,000 (NZ$118,926) in 17 instances across five months — all of it ending up with Crown Casino, Judge Lyon said.
At the end of July, Zakhour bought her victim what she said was a flashy A$60,000 (NZ$64,868) Rolex watch as a gift — but police later confirmed it was a fake.
She started her tale by spinning it as an investment that would get him big returns and escalated to threats of violence if he didn’t give her more money.
She pressured him to withdraw money from his super, and sent him 240 emails in about three weeks threatening his ex-wife, his mother and his children.
The man eventually went to the police.
In a victim impact statement, the chief executive told the court that Zakhour “ruined his life”, leaving him with no money, psychological scarring and broken-down family relationships.
He had a “debilitating” stroke and could not provide for his daughters, he said.
Zakhour was arrested on December 12, 2018, and later interviewed by police where her lies were put to her.
“When asked about her family being in Dubai, she stated how stupid he is – they are in Wodonga,” police facts said.
She told police of her regret at spending all of the money at Crown Casino.
“The thing that’s killing me is I did nothing with the money,” she said.
“I could have bought the biggest business — I didn’t even buy myself a car, not even property.
“Nothing to show for it.”
Police then discovered in February 2018 Zakhour met a 45-year-old financial planner on Tinder — and in similar events, convinced him to transfer her A$61,000 (NZ$65,950) for a non-existent fruit and vegetable farm.
She pleaded guilty to six charges of obtain financial advantage by deception, three of blackmail, and two of extortion.
Judge Lyon said she had a “normal” childhood and adolescence, and started gambling after her first marriage broke down when she was aged about 19.
After her second marriage ended, she moved to Lebanon, where, the court heard, she was “followed and effectively kidnapped and held in Syria” for ten months by her ex-husband, who allegedly ransomed A$400,000 (NZ$436,382) from her parents.
“Once back in Australia, you found comfort in gambling,” the judge said.
“You had a belief you could win enough money to repay your parents for the payments they had made.”
But her status and lifestyle at Crown Casino turned into a “fantasy” where money had no meaning besides enabling her to gamble, a court-appointed psychologist found.
Judge Lyon said she used the dating app as a “hunting ground” to “seek out and exploit” men with money.
He said she “callously and ruthlessly” exploited their vulnerability by creating a ruse of an intimate relationship.
He said they would struggle to be able to trust again.