Son caught up in mum’s Texan romance scam
A CENTRAL Queensland man went to extreme lengths to help his disabled mum after she fell victim to an online romance scam and lost her entire life savings.
In a desperate move to help the woman who raised him the 42 year old set his own car on fire for the $20,000 insurance payout.
Mackay District Court heard the "lonely and vulnerable" woman had been targeted by a man, who said he was from Texas, and believed they were in a relationship.
As a result she sent him about $200,000, leaving her in dire financial need. Her son Charles Alan Bowden wanted to help but did not have the spare cash.
So he hatched a plot to burn his car and claim the insurance money.
"His plan was to buy a cheap car with the insurance proceeds and give the rest to his mother," barrister Scott McLennan said.
Between December 31 last year and January 4 this year, the Dysart father took the vehicle to a quarry and burned it in a sandpit.
Mr McLennan said the spot was deliberately chosen because "there's simply no chance of the fire spreading".
The court heard he then lodged a claim, which he later attempted to withdraw, and has since paid close to $10,000 to insurer AAMI for their investigation costs.
Crown prosecutor Will Slack said Bowden initially lied to police, even when confronted with evidence from a forensic locksmith.
His lies unravelled when police revealed the car had been started with the key, which Bowen had told them was with him at all times - he eventually confessed.
The now 43 year old, who works full-time, pleaded guilty to arson and attempted fraud at Dysart.
Mr McLennan said his client's motive was important because it was to help his mother rather than "selfishness or greed".
The pair was extremely close, having been the target of physical and emotional abuse by his father, who later took his own life. The court heard he had been treated for depression for more than 10 years and was ashamed and remorseful for his offending.
"You are not original in the idea of burning a car to get insurance," Judge Julie Dick said. "It is different when the vehicle destroyed is your car."
She accepted Bowden would have a harder time in custody because of his mental health and said key points were his low risk of reoffending in a similar way and the fact he had repaid the investigation costs.
"You cannot buy your way out of jail … but the Court of Appeal has said that where compensation has been paid or there's a real offer of compensation it can be considered … as remorse," she said, adding there was precedent for a non-custodial penalty for arson against a motor vehicle.
Judge Dick agreed with Mr McLennan's push for a wholly suspended three-year jail term.
Convictions were recorded.