Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Ponsonby 'Phantom' pursued

Loizos Michaels fled NZ while facing $3 million fraud charges. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Loizos Michaels fled NZ while facing $3 million fraud charges. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Remember Loizos Michaels? The Weekend Herald revealed how the Ponsonby restaurant owner managed to flee to Australia while on bail on $3 million fraud charges.

Now, Australian fraud detectives are investigating more than 50 complaints against Michaels, who calls himself the Phantom.

Michaels allegedly drained $180,000 from a Melbourne man who invested in the hope of the return paying for overseas stem-cell treatment for his seriously ill young son, the Herald-Sun reported.

Other alleged victims included pensioners and mum-and-dad investors stripped of their life savings.

"He [Michaels] said, 'The police can't touch me'," one victim told the newspaper.

Another said: "There's people out there who want to kill him."

Victoria Police have a warrant for his arrest, as does the Serious Fraud Office, which is still trying to track him.

Michaels was charged by the SFO in February 2010 after allegedly using the name of Jonah Lomu in a $3 million fraud. But he skipped the country in August after Judge Josephine Bouchier returned his passport so he could supposedly visit his sick mother in Australia.

Michaels was charged with fraud after he persuaded two casino executives to invest more than $2.8 million in a make-believe takeover of SkyCity casino, and used Lomu's name to get more than $350,000 from a couple as "security" on a Taupo luxury apartment sale which never went through.

Eventually, private investigators hired by RichLister Peter Goodfellow, president of the National Party, called in the SFO, which later laid charges over the alleged scam.

Lomu, who was not part of the SFO investigation, said in 2009 that he was duped by a proposal from Michaels to become "the global face of kickboxing" but was never paid.

Michaels owned Plato's Greek Taverna on Ponsonby Rd, now closed, where he ate and drank for free every day with his entourage.

On any given day, the colourful cast of characters could include minder Adam Riley, the Hells Angels sergeant-at-arms, or righthand man Steve Catsicas, a bankrupt property developer.

Other members of the gang were regulars at Plato's, with gleaming motorbikes parked out front. The restaurant was listed as a sponsor of the Hells Angels MC annual "Poker Run" charity ride last year.

But not even the gang presence could stop the growing number of disgruntled tradesmen and restaurant suppliers lining up to bankrupt Michaels.

- NZ Herald

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