On the surface, Vageesh Potnis was an unassuming postman.
But the Australia Post delivery driver led a double life in which he preyed financially on society’s most vulnerable.
Court documents reveal a conniving scheme which saw the Indian national steal thousands of dollars from Aussies with intellectual disabilities and dementia.
The crimes culminated in a failed attempt to flee the country thanks to a misjudged Google search which gave away his plan.
On January 13, Potnis was sentenced to two years of jail to be served in the community after pleading guilty to knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime, recklessly dealing with proceeds of crime, knowingly directing a criminal group and dealing with identity information to commit an indictable offence.
Since the sentencing at the NSW District Court, news.com.au has seen court documents detailing the events that led to two vulnerable men being scammed out of nearly $30,000.
According to agreed facts, in November 2020, a Victorian man with an intellectual disability received an email and call from either Potnis or someone in his criminal group purporting to be from the Australian Taxation Office.
The victim was told he had a tax debt and was being investigated for possible fraud and tax evasion.
He was asked for his personal details, told to download several banking applications onto his mobile phone and to transfer all his money held by Colonial Bank — totalling $66,695 — into his Bankwest account.
In the following weeks, the victim was alarmed by two withdrawals of $5813 and $6036 from his Bankwest account and reported them to police.
The facts state Potnis used the money, which was transferred into his own bank account, to pay off government debt as well as buy $4570 worth of gold and two iPhones from JB Hi-Fi.
When Potnis’ bank blocked his account due to the fraudulent deposits, he called the bank to say his friend “Ravi” had borrowed his card and made the transactions because he owed him money.
The facts detail text messages between Potnis and an unknown person in which he references needing a “new licence to activate (a) sim (card) ” and sends photos of a driver’s licence that is not his.
Potnis’ second victim was a New South Wales man with dementia.
In May of 2021, a total of $18,250 was transferred from the victim’s bank account to Potnis’ account through a remote desktop program which was installed on the victim’s computer without his approval.
Five months later, police had enough evidence to swoop in on Potnis and interview him.
But he tried again to cover his tracks, fabricating the same story about his friend “Ravi” owing him money and borrowing his MasterCard.
When police asked Potnis to return to the station for a second interview, he said he couldn’t get there because he was an inpatient at Concord Hospital — but the hospital had no record of a patient by his name.
A search of Potnis’ phone records revealed he’d Googled “one way to Hyderabad (in India)” just two hours after police first spoke to him.
Sure enough, officers caught him at an international airport terminal and arrested him.
Judge Mark Williams SC sentenced Potnis to a two-year intensive correction order for the crimes.
Reading from court documents, Judge Williams SC said Potnis moved to Australia in 2018 after gaining a bachelor of science in his home country of India.
Leaving his wife and child behind, he wanted to study further in Sydney, but fell into financial trouble.
Judge Williams said Potnis had no prior criminal record.
Originally published as Australia Post delivery driver scams victims with disabilities, dementia