Air-con conman jailed after fleecing customers of $350,000

An air-conditioning conman has been jailed for more than three years for duping dozens of customers out of a combined $350,000 by failing to install promised cooling and heating systems.

Between 2017 and 2020, Richard Francis Tovey swindled 65 people who paid him upfront to install air conditioning and heating units after contacting his business, Professional Heating and Air Conditioning Services.

Richard Francis Tovey must serve one year and 10 months in jail before he is eligible for parole.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The County Court heard Tovey used the alias Mick Chambers in face-to-face meetings with customers and had them email and pay another false name, Ian Granger – but steered the deposits into his bank account.

Once he was paid, Tovey used myriad excuses to avoid installing the units and failed to provide promised refunds. Judge Amanda Chambers said on the occasions Tovey did the work, it was either not completed or shoddy.

Tovey’s conduct, which in some cases left elderly people in hot homes and unable to afford cooling systems, came despite a magistrate’s 2014 order to prevent him running a company and doing installation work for a decade.

That order followed a 2012 Consumer Affairs Victoria probe that found Tovey had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and previously failed to grant refunds totalling $76,000 to customers for contracts he didn’t meet.

On Friday, Chambers jailed Tovey for three years and four months after the 60-year-old pleaded guilty to 61 charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception, four of obtaining property by deception, and one of offending while on bail.

Most victims were defrauded less than $4000, but a handful were conned out of five-figure sums. Most are still waiting to get their money back.

Chambers said more than half of Tovey’s victims were swindled while he was on bail. In October 2019, he was arrested but bailed and within days of his release and continued his offending.

The father of three will be in jail for one year and 10 months before he can seek parole, and has served six weeks since his plea hearing.

“In general terms, you failed to provide any works at all or on the occasions you commenced work, it was incomplete,” Chambers told him.

“When customers attempted to follow up on their orders you made multiple excuses to explain the delays, including poor weather, ill health, bereavement and other work demands.

“On occasions the work was partially undertaken, it was often substandard. In the majority of cases where the frustrated customer sought to cancel their orders, you would agree to refund the payment but rarely did so.”

One woman, the court heard, paid $14,000 for a cooling system for her Melbourne apartment and sought a refund when Tovey stonewalled. Despite the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling in her favour, the woman had been refunded only $3600 and felt “scammed”.

The family of another elderly woman had to relocate her from her hot home because she couldn’t afford a new cooling system after Tovey deceived her out of her savings.

And a first-time mother was left exhausted, stressed and angry at caring for her new baby with no cooling. She didn’t pursue a refund when she became overwhelmed by the VCAT process.

Chambers said Tovey’s victims lost faith in others and his crimes were serious, prolonged and planned, though not sophisticated. His offending while on bail was brazen.

But the judge acknowledged Tovey’s admissions averted a long trial, that he was undergoing psychological treatment and there was no evidence of lavish personal enrichment, as Tovey defrauded his customers when his business struggled.

His brother, barrister Michael Tovey, QC, wrote a reference that said the air-con technician was devoted to providing his wife and family and felt a need to demonstrate his worth by showing material success.

The family is now selling its home to pay back the $278,000 he owes his victims.

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