[author]Luis Feliu and staff reporters[/author]
A Southport District Court jury found Robert Dale guilty last week of defrauding four investors in a major resort project, called Water at Wooyung, in 2004 by enticing them to buy units in a trust.
The former Gold Coast lifestyle guru turned property developer will serve at least three years behind bars for ripping off investors in a failed attempt to develop a Wooyung property which is again the focus of a controversial stand-off.
In sentencing him to seven and a half years’ jail and setting a January 2015 parole date, the judge said while most of the money went towards the project, one couple’s cheque for $250,000 was used to buy a house for Dale and his wife.
Dale’s lawyers say they will appeal, leaving open another chapter in the chequered history of the 80-hectare property which is now subject to a renewed bid to build a huge waterfront resort by the latest owners of the southern Tweed site, Wooyung Properties P/L.
Dale, a 54-year-old motivation coach, acquired the site in October 2004 with the help of vendor finance, later selling it to Samtay P/L for an $800,000 loss, according to industry regulator ASIC.
Samtay, which bought it for $5.5 million, struck gold in 2006 when it convinced a court that pegs driven into the ground seven years before meant that 1988 council approvals for a resort-style development, granted amid corruption claims, were still valid.
It then off-loaded the site to the present owners after the planning minister rejected the grandiose plans, which included an artificial lake and 300 resort units on three man-made islands surrounded by a golf course on an acid sulphate-contaminated flood plain.
Samtay more than tripled its profits in 2007 with a $17 million sale to Wooyung Properties, owned by a syndicate including hotel ‘pokies king’ Bruce Mathieson and leading race horse breeder Jonathon Muntz.
Legal action dropped
The company took legal action against Tweed council earlier this year for continuing to block similar plans for the property, but discontinued their action without notice several weeks ago.
The company was challenging the council’s refusal to issue a construction certificate after chief planner Vince Connell identified ‘numerous deficiencies’ in the project which involved the excavation of the lake and creation of the three islands.
He said the deficiencies related to flooding, significant environmental impacts plus the effects on adjacent littoral rainforest, protected wetlands and the Wooyung Beach dunal system.
Mr Connell said this week that the company had been asked to formally withdraw its construction certificate and to clarify its future intentions for the site but as yet had not responded.
The company sought approval for an alternative plan for 24 luxury dwellings last year but dropped the idea following opposition from the council and some community groups who still believed it was unsuitable.
Tweed Council approved the massive development in 1988 without informing the public, eventually attracting the attention of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
In its landmark investigation into north coast land deals, the ICAC found evidence to suggest the original developer, Elm-n-Ash P/L, and a former Tweed councillor were involved in corrupt conduct.