Jailed for ripping off Hillsong Church

The Sydney Morning Herald/November 21, 2007

A failed Sydney property developer who convinced the Hillsong Church and its parishioners to invest millions of dollars in a property scam has been jailed for 18 months.

Robert John Orehek, 45, was a successful businessman and member of the Pentecostal Hillsong Church when fellow parishioners began to approach him in 2002.

Sentencing him in the District Court in Sydney today, Judge Bennett said Orehek had been driven by greed and an inability to say no when he accepted offers of investment money which well exceeded his management ability.

"Orehek felt that he was invincible and other people in the church thought they were invincible," Judge Bennett said.

"With the power of God they were able to trust each other implicitly."

Orehek collected $4.6 million from investors, claiming it was for use on property projects in Sydney's north.

Instead he lived a "lavish" lifestyle, owning a red Ferrari, a Porsche, and a Ducati motorcycle and used $150,000 as a deposit on a $3.5 million luxury beachside apartment.

Judge Bennett jailed Orehek for 18 months, allowing a 15 per cent discount for his guilty pleas to three fraud charges and one breach of corporate regulations.

When his 18-month non-parole period expires, Orehek will be released on a $5,000 bond to be of good behaviour for two years and four months.

Judge Bennett said Hillsong's interest in Orehek's business was the "beginning of the road to disaster".

"He had greater ambition for wealth and the lifestyle it might provide," the judge said.

"Unfortunately these ambitions substantially outweighed his ability to manage his finances.

"Instead of moderating his lifestyle (Orehek) continued a relatively extravagant lifestyle.

"He chose to forge ahead, enticing investors to part with their money, leaving them out of pocket."

Orehek was expelled from the church and banned from setting foot on any Hillsong premises after his conduct became known.

Twenty-seven people, including a quadriplegic, lost money in his schemes.

The judge found there were special circumstances in the case, saying it was Orehek's first criminal offence and it had caused him suffer severe anxiety and depression.

Dressed in a black suit, Orehek sat looking sombre as he was sentenced.

He will be eligible for release in May 2009.

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