Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Wife: Conman cheated parents out of money

Judge delivers 30 guilty verdicts on the 'Teflon man' fraudster whose victims included his wife's parents.

Loizos Michaels was extradited from Australia, and yesterday was found guilty on 30 fraud charges. Photo / Greg Bowker
Loizos Michaels was extradited from Australia, and yesterday was found guilty on 30 fraud charges. Photo / Greg Bowker

Serial conman Loizos Michaels cheated his own parents-in-law out of $50,000 on his way to stealing $3 million from other friends and acquaintances, his wife has revealed.

Caroline Wood told the Weekend Herald her estranged husband talked her parents into investing their savings with him and gambled the money away at a Sydney casino.

She says Michaels liked to call himself "Teflon man" because nothing ever stuck to him.

After his conviction yesterday in the Auckland District Court on 30 counts of deception, she now calls him the "Velcro man".

The court heard how Michaels convinced casino executives, moteliers and All Black great Jonah Lomu he was a wealthy businessman backed by overseas interests.

He briefly persuaded Cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee and National Party president Peter Goodfellow to become directors of the company he set up for a fictitious takeover of SkyCity.

But yesterday, Judge Christopher Field described Michaels' evidence as "completely incredible" and rejected his claim that all the Crown witnesses were liars.

"The person who has been telling lies is Mr Michaels," he said.

Ms Wood was one of many Crown witnesses vilified by the 45-year-old when he gave evidence in his own defence.

During the eight-week trial, Michaels labelled the mother of his child an alcoholic and made other personal remarks.

At her Auckland home, Ms Wood said Michaels' attacks were a poor attempt at deflection.

"It was sort of a sick way of making it OK to be a drop-kick father who abandoned his wife and son."

Ms Wood married Michaels in a Greek Orthodox wedding on the Gold Coast in 2004. She said he had a sense of humour and was charming in an "interesting type of way".

But it wasn't long before he entered his "fantasy world".

Ms Wood moved back to NZ to be closer to her ill mother and Michaels followed at the end of 2006.

She later lost her home after Michaels' businesses failed and the bank forced a mortgagee sale.

Judge Field said the conman was able to create a climate of "psychological dependence" and preyed on vulnerable people.

One was the former acting CEO of Christchurch Casino, Stephen Lyttelton, who met Michaels after he complained about staff and the quality of the casino's coffee.

Michaels - whose scam was described by the Crown as brazen - claimed to be a "corporate raider" carrying out due diligence on SkyCity, and offered Mr Lyttelton a high-paying role with his company.

Mr Lyttelton was also persuaded to involve his gaming manager, Peter Arbuckle.

Michaels' demands for money kept coming, and Mr Lyttelton and Mr Arbuckle gave him $2.5 million.

When the two men ran out of money, Michaels told them to approach friends and family.

One of those friends was rich-lister Mr Goodfellow who, before meeting Michaels, agreed to lend Mr Lyttelton $114,000.

But during a lunchtime meeting at an upmarket eatery at the Viaduct Harbour in Auckland, Mr Goodfellow began to doubt Michaels' stories, particularly when he noticed his old clothes and scruffy shoes.

Michaels met Lomu through a mutual friend and promised the rugby star $15 million to front his global kick-boxing tournament.

But nothing came of the competition and Lomu walked away.

The Weekend Herald has learned that Michaels' sister, Helen Vassilakis, is also a confidence trickster who is wanted by police in the Australian state of Victoria for allegedly defrauding friends of about A$60,000.

Michaels played a part in his sister's crimes, according to the statement of her main victim.

Like her brother, she has an addiction to gambling.

Detective Senior Constable Tony Peeler told the Weekend Herald the money she was accused of defrauding appeared to have been spent playing poker machines.

Vassilakis, 44, was with Michaels when Australian federal police arrested him at a Queensland resort last year and extradited him to NZ.

Michaels had fled when an Auckland judge returned his passport after the conman pleaded to be allowed to visit his sick mother in Victoria.

Police have since lost track of Vassilakis, who has two teenage sons and may be living with her mother.

"They're just like Michael [but] in skirts," said Ms Wood. She said the conman lived for his mother and sister.

Sentencing was set for this month.

- NZ Herald

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