Funding an addiction
A doctor who defrauded his patients out of more than AU$810,000 (US$524,637) to fund his gambling addiction has received a jail sentence. Abraham Stephanson was hit with a three-year prison sentence on Tuesday in the County Court of Victoria, a term also including an 18-month non-parole period.
a gross breach of trust”
Judge George Georgiou labeled the offenses “a gross breach of trust,” adding that Stephanson’s actions had a profound impact on all the victims. In explaining the sentencing, the judge said he took into account the accused’s gambling addiction and mental health issues.
The 50-year-old doctor admitted that he persuaded patients to lend him funds, using the terminal cancer diagnosis of his father as the reason for needing the money. None of the cash that Stephanson took went towards helping his father, with most actually spent on online gambling platforms.
A scam artist
Between 2019 and 2020, Stephanson took money from 18 of his patients and a pharmacy worker, as reported by ABC. The borrowed sums ranged from AU$5,000 (US$3,238) to AU$120,000 (US$77,724).
Before his arrest, the disgraced doctor repaid about AU$190,418 (US$123,334) to the patients, meaning there is still more than AU$620,000 (US$401,574) outstanding. He has sold a property for AU$1.6m (US$1m) to help repay the victims. Some of them had a relationship with Stephanson for up to a decade and were often elderly. One has even passed away since lending the doctor money.
Stephanson would contact patients via text or email
To request the money, Stephanson would contact patients via text or email. These messages were often exactly the same, the main difference being the destination for the supposed cancer treatment. The loan agreement he would strike up with the victims did not outline any terms and conditions. He would typically add the funds to his online sportsbook account, although on one occasion he used the money to make a mortgage payment.
Some patients ended up giving the doctor their life savings. In their victim impact statements, many of them outlined how they felt “angry,” “violated,” and “betrayed” by Stephanson’s actions.
One of the victims even outlined how she had sympathized with the doctor’s supposed plight as her own father had died from cancer. Many said they now feel like they will struggle to fully trust people again.