Alleged Harcourt conman has 18 aliases and changed name 10 times, Bendigo court hears

Christopher Ellingburg, 49, of Harcourt.
Christopher Ellingburg, 49, of Harcourt.

POLICE believe the mastermind of an alleged fraud ring involving fake charity stalls has a history of fraud stretching back to the 1980s, has up to 18 aliases and has changed his name 10 times.

Christopher Ellingburg, 49, of Harcourt, allegedly operated the stalls at supermarkets across Bendigo since April 2015, using images of terminally ill children to raise an estimated $145,650 for his personal benefit.

He describes himself as the “pastor” of the Grace Christian Centre of Australia, which police allege is a fraudulent charitable organisation. The stalls carried the organisation’s name.

Ellingburg appeared in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday charged with conspiracy to defraud, obtain financial advantage by deception, obtain property by deception and other charges.

Detective Sergeant Colin Grenfell, of Bendigo police, started investigating Ellingburg in 2015 having charged him with similar offending in 1990.

He spoke with shopping centre operators in Bendigo who told him Ellingburg would produce permits, statutory declarations and other documents when requested.

Sergeant Grenfell alleges the documents were fraudulently obtained in Tasmania, telling the court Ellingburg did not declare his prior fraud offences to Tasmanian authorities.

It is alleged Ellingburg left Tasmania for New South Wales when a police investigation started, and then moved to Bendigo when NSW Police started to investigate.

No charges have come from the investigations.

Sergeant Grenfell said families in Bendigo had been caught up in the alleged fraud.

“While they’re out at shopping centres, real people with real terminally ill children approach them, and he tells them that he will fundraise for them, but then he pockets the money,” he alleged.

Police raided his Harcourt address and arrested him on Tuesday, seizing 19 collection tins, multiple Eftpos machines and documentation.

He allegedly could not provide evidence of his fundraising going to benefit any families.

Co-accused Luke Riddick, 41, and Bradley Millick, 31, were also arrested in the raid. The three were living at the same address.

Police allege Millick has four aliases, including Tim Cross and Brett Lincoln, and Riddick has one alias – David John Sutton.

The court heard the names appear in ASIC reports online.

The pair have been bailed to appear in court next week.

The court heard Ellingburg has previously been jailed in South Australia, and has been extradited to Victoria from New South Wales and Western Australia, all relating to dishonesty offences.

Detective Grenfell said the alleged offending was “sophisticated”, and Ellingburg could be convincing to his victims.

“He’s a conman going on many years. He’s good at what he does,” he said.

Ellingburg applied for bail in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, and claimed Sergeant Grenfell had a vendetta against him from 27 years ago.

He was given the opportunity to question Sergeant  Grenfell, and his first question was: “Do you believe in God?”

Detective Sergeant Colin Grenfell, of Bendigo police, has investigated the trio for several years.

Detective Sergeant Colin Grenfell, of Bendigo police, has investigated the trio for several years.

Ellingburg questioned why he had not been charged with criminal offences in NSW or Tasmania. He also said he could not be considered a flight risk because he required a wheelchair.

“How can I be a flight risk when I’m in a wheelchair? I cannot get on a plane, I cannot get on a train. I intend to defend this,” he said.

Sergeant Grenfell pointed out Ellingburg had a 2016 Mercedes Benz fitted out for his requirements, but Ellingburg offered the car as surety for bail.

He criticised the food at the Bendigo police station, and said he had been “rolled around” on an office chair instead of being given a wheelchair.

Ellingburg said he would fight the charges.

“For the last 10 years I’ve been totally crime free,” he told the court. “I knew you were investigating me, why would I abscond now?

“Your honour, all I can put it down to is that Detective Grenfell doesn’t like me for something I did 27 years ago.”

Sergeant Grenfell doubted the claim.

“I don’t have any faith in the words you say,” he said. “As soon as he comes under investigation in Tasmania, he goes to New South Wales. When he starts being investigated in New South Wales, he goes to Victoria.

The court heard Ellingburg has no prior offences for breaching bail, despite facing court dozens of times in the last few decades.

Magistrate Michael King said bail conditions could be set to ensure the safety of the community, and to keep Ellingburg in Victoria.

“Your criminal record in South Australia or Victoria does not reveal a conviction for failing to answer bail,” he said.

“I’m satisfied that I can set conditions of bail to protect the public from more offending.”

Ellingburg was released on bail, and must report to the Bendigo police station daily, provide a $10,000 surety, cannot leave the state of Victoria and cannot participate in fundraising activities.

He will appear at a committal mention in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on August 29.