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Texts, fake cheques show extent of grandmother’s ‘elaborate’ scam

Written by on May 17, 2024


The victims of a grandmother who fleeced her loved ones of $400,000 to gamble at the Star Casino has called on her to be deported after the 63-year-old was released from police custody ahead of an appeal of her jail sentence.

On Thursday, Sydney woman Viviana Leonor Varas was sentenced to one year in jail and was led out in handcuffs to claps from her victims after the courtroom was told of her intricate web of lies that included falsifying her mother’s Covid-19 death and faking cancer.

However, on Friday the grandmother of two walked free after an appeal for her full-time jail sentence was formally entered. She was granted bail ahead of the appeal on a $2000 bond.

Woman jailed after faking cancer and scamming $400,000 from victims

Exiting the courthouse, Varas spotted who was waiting out to ask her for comment on her proceedings. She turned around – back into the courthouse – putting on a Covid-19 mask and a hoodie to hide her face before fleeing.

Her matter will return to court on August 5 for the appeal at Sydney Downing Centre.

Livid that Varas had been granted bail, one of her victims called for her to be deported, accusing her of wasting taxpayer dollars. She accused Varas of delaying her jail sentence through the appeal.

“She’s not even from Australia. She is from the US,” she told

“She’s on JobSeeker now and we’re all supporting her, and she’s wasted the courts time so many (other people’s) time. You’re not a citizen, so why is the Australian taxpayer paying for you?”

“If there was a way or a petition to get her deported, that would be something I would advocate for.”

On Thursday, the court heard how Varas had fleeced four of her loved once out of a total $382,000 between September 2016 and March 2021. She pleaded guilty to all four charges earlier this year.

She told the victims she was investing her money in an offshore “family trust” in the US which her great-great grandfather had previously set up. Instead their money was being spent at the Star casino – from which she is now banned.

When the victims asked for the money back – Varas made up various excuses for not being able to return the money, including the fact she was arranging her mother’s funeral, who is in fact still alive.

Magistrate Christine Haskett handed down the one year jail term saying she was concerned Varas had “no remorse”.

“She has little insight into the damage that she has done to her victims and that she disagrees with police facts.”

“The victim blaming is outrageous.”

The victims

One of the four victims was the woman’s best friend, who she met in 2016 while living in the same building as her in Pyrmont.

She told that she had even trusted Varas to help with her young family and knit clothes for them.

“She befriended me and built up that trust,” she said.

“She just really integrated herself into my life and said you’re just like a daughter to me. She just groomed me and at my most vulnerable time.”

The court heard Varas first asked her for money in 2017 for storage costs.

Over a two-year period, Varas managed to convince her to invest in her “family US trust” with the victim sending her a total $145,000.

When she asked for her money back, Varas gave the woman a cheque for $104,000, which bounced.

Varas then told her to contact her solicitor – however – when she called the number provided the man on the phone told her “he did not do that kind of work”.

She reported Varas to police in May 2018.

The court heard how she did not follow up earlier as the grandmother had told her she had cancer and was undergoing treatment in hospital.

“None of this was true, she was not undergoing cancer treatment,” Magistrate Haskett said.

Another victim met Varas at the Star Casino about 10 years ago before becoming friends. She said she sent her about $100,000 to invest across the last decade. She last heard from Varas after she deposited $30,000 into her account.

“She rang me up and said that ATO needed the tax,” she told

“It makes you feel really stupid. She makes it out that she’s a multi-millionaire and then when I spoke to her best friend’s family, she was just poor as anything. She’s done this to a lot of people.”

Another victim, a Sydney salesman, met Varas while playing poker at Star Casino. He said she was making thousand-dollar bets and asked where she got the money from.

She said she was an investor, with the man sending her $32,000.

He got $5000 back from the bank, but is still $27,000 out of pocket.

“She’s just like an immoral person. A scammer,” he said, comparing the case to that of Melissa Caddick.

The sentence

On Thursday, Varas’ lawyer Mickaela Mate, attempted to argue that the fraudster did have stage one lung cancer in 2015 and said she had suffered an “adjustment condition” off the back of the diagnosis which was the reason behind the offending.

However, Magistrate Haskett said she was quickly put in remission after her diagnosis and said it could not be used as an excuse for telling people she was in hospital undergoing cancer treatment in 2020.

Ms Mate also said Varas did go to hospital for a kidney stone during the offending as well as “heavy nose bleeds”.

“That’s hardly cancer is it?” Haskett said.

Magistrate Haskett also did not accept a submission from Ms Mate that the offending was “not sophisticated”.

“[The lies] were very sophisticated. People were told lawyers and accountants were involved. Meetings never eventuated. The planning was well thought out,” Magistrate Haskett said.

“Lies about family trusts; lies that she worked on Wall Street. Documents that were promised but never produced. She told people she was arranging her mother’s funeral and she’s still alive.”

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As part of her sentence, Varas was also ordered to pay back the costs however, the court heard how she had “no assets”.

The court was told how her long-term defacto partner of 20 years – IT consultant Gary Thompson – had recently left her over the offending with her three children, including two grandchildren, also ceasing contact. Mr Thompson has been contacted for comment.

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