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Crook sentenced for riding school fraud

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Crook sentenced for riding school fraud
A riding therapy session. File photo: apa/dpa/oliver krato
15:48 CEST+02:00
A 33-year-old Austrian man who duped donors out of €1 million after pretending that he was raising money for a riding school that would provide therapy for disabled children has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

Victims of his fraud included prominent members of an automobile dynasty and a munitions manufacturer.

The man, a gardener by trade from Vorarlberg, had already appeared in court 11 times in Germany and Austria, charged with similar offences.

His troubles started ten years ago when an equestrian business he ran in Vorarlberg went bust, leaving him with debts of €160,000 which he was unable to repay.

He then set up a fictitious charitable organisation called Das Rosswerk and pretended to organise trips for disabled children and their parents to Vienna, using the money he raised to try and pay off his debts. He told the families that the trips had to be cancelled as the sponsors had backed out.

He also raised money to pay for a riding club, a trained therapy horse and riding instructor, specialist saddles, an SUV and a horse trailer. He told one prominent man from Salzburg, known for his philanthropy, that he was expecting an inheritance and “borrowed” €200,000.

A relative of the philanthropist donated €12,000 towards the riding club. He managed to persuade other people to lend him money by saying that he was wealthy but that all his money was tied up in foundations.

In May 2013 the two donors from Salzburg became suspicious and reported him to the police.

Asked by the judge why he had continued to pursue his complex web of lies he said that since childhood he had suffered from a “huge inferiority complex which meant that I felt compelled to create something and not disappear into oblivion.”

He added that he really was interested in riding therapy for disabled children and had trained as a teacher himself. “I wanted to start a club, but it didn’t work out… I didn’t get the financial backing."

He is currently in debt to the tune of €860,000.

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