Former hotel licensee admits guilt in fire fraud scheme

Talitha WolfeAlbany Advertiser

The former licensee of the historic Premier Hotel will be sentenced in the Albany Supreme Court tomorrow after changing his plea to guilty to the arson of the historic Albany pub.

Graeme Roderick Cooper was set to face an eight-day Supreme Court trial starting Monday for charges of attempting to gain benefit by fraud, criminal damage by fire and creating false belief; however, when asked by Justice Stephen Hall how he intended to plea, Cooper pleaded guilty on all three charges.

The court was told yesterday morning, Cooper initiated an elaborate ploy to stage a robbery and set fire to the hotel in an attempt to lodge a potential insurance claim of an estimated $3.37 million.

State prosecutor David Davidson said the debt bearing down on Cooper and the financial motive was the reason behind the plot.

The court was told the hotel had run at a loss from July, 2015, to May, 2016, with Cooper and business partner Rumeena Nizam taking over the lease in October, 2015.

Cooper and Ms Nizam had been late on rent repayments on at least one occasion, the court was told.

Investigations into the incident began on May 13, 2016, after Cooper provided a statement to police claiming he was robbed and assaulted by two men who proceeded to set fire to the hotel.

Police were first alerted to Cooper’s involvement in the scam after a tip-off from a co-accused, before Cooper was arrested in September, 2016.

Cooper’s barrister Ken Bates told the court on Monday that his client had no previous criminal convictions.

Scott Jon Gay, Christopher Lyndon Paterson, Aaron Mark Hasson and Karl Hutchinson were all sentenced for their involvement in the arson attack in July which caused $1.5 million in damage to the 126-year-old building.

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