Backgrounder on Bon Levi

by Chris Griffith
Published in The Sunday Mail, Sunday 25 October 1998


my face


The only thing bigger that Ron Frederick's distinctive handlebar moustache is his ego. Australia's most notorious conman has had 14 aliases and once drove a Gold Rolls-Royce with the personalised number plate RICH12.

When he ran his model scam MGM Model Management and Talent Scouts, the narcissistic and conceited Frederick had business cards billing himself as ``Vice President, Hollywood''.

And when he fled angry Australian investors to start afresh in the United States this year, the 55-year-old couldn't resist taking a little memento _ a Sunday Mail clipping detailing his exploits here.

But that _ and the wrath of a woman scorned _ helped catch the man known as Ron the Con.

His US girlfriend said she knew nothing of Frederick 's shady Australian past nor his marriage to nurse Susan Maree McLeod days before he disappeared from the Gold Coast to St Louis in February and began courting her.

Nor did she realise that over 20 years Frederick had creamed prospective business associates of millions of dollars, leaving a trail of financial ruin, bankruptcies, lost homes, and broken marriages in his wake. For two months, she remained in touch with The Sunday Mail and the FBI while living with the cunning Frederick, who was oblivious to the net closing in on him.

Frederick will face a grand jury in St Louis this week on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 10 hard years in a tough US federal jail and life among that nation's worst. His arrest after an immigration and FBI investigation has heartened hundreds of Australian and US victims.

Outfoxed at last, Frederick last week was sitting helplessly in a county jail as every newspaper clipping, police file, consumer affairs portfolio, and victim statement made its way from Australia to the US in a massive international effort to put him behind bars.

Yesterday Frederick 's girlfriend said he had rung her from jail to read out every word of last week's story in The Sunday Mail which announced his capture.

``I met him in St Louis at the start of April'', she said. ``I was with a girlfriend at a hotel bar one Sunday, and my friend said: `See this man over here, he's going to open a restaurant'.

Frederick 's restaurant never eventuated, but his girlfriend, a former bank employee, said Frederick convinced her to move away from her family and friends and relocate in Florida . The couple lived with her 14-year-old daughter.

She said the runaway Aussie always had cash to splash, grandiose ideas to match, but often was not truthful.

``When I met him, he said he was 44 and I said: `You've had a hard life.' Later I discovered from his passport he was 55.''

She said Frederick travelled extensively, including to Germany , Italy , France and Spain supposedly on business. She accompanied him to Jakarta , and to Los Cabos and Mexico City in Mexico on business trips.

According to the FBI, Frederick established two businesses in the US _ Midas Photographic's USA Inc, a disposable camera franchise operation, and Top Snax _ USA Inc, a food distributor.

Both businesses sold licences to service a delivery area. The FBI alleges 50 licensees paid between $30,000 and $68,000 and were promised income of between $500 and $2000 per week.

But without income from sales, Frederick gave his business short-term credibility by using money from new licensees to finance the promised returns to earlier licensees _ a short-term tact designed to snare more investors before the schemes inevitably crashed.

She said Frederick had built up a small empire of 50 commissioned employees, a head quarters in Florida , and branch offices across the US in Las Vegas , Chicago , Clear Water, Bloomington , Ann Arbor , Dallas , Cincinnati , and Denver staffed with employees trying to sell his camera franchises.

In its court affidavit, the FBI said it had uncovered over $1 million of deposits in an account controlled by Frederick at a St Louis bank, but US sources believe another $1.5 million could be held in other accounts and off shore.

The FBI also had uncovered $54,990.64 of transfers to the St George Bank in Sydney and 77 bounced cheques, 38 during July alone.

Frederick 's other business, Top Snax USA Inc, was run by his associate, Lee Cooper. It promised to ``stuff'' 2.5 million bags with potato crisps, but the FBI said there was no machinery to achieve it. When confronted by the FBI, Cooper said his staff would ``stuff the bags by hand'' in the meantime.

Cooper was arrested eight days ago and has been charged with lying to the FBI.

The Sunday Mail last week learnt that Cooper is actually criminal Andrew Coker, who was jailed in South Australia in 1992 after working with Frederick on another get-rich-quick scam.

For 20 years, the smooth-talking and flamboyant Frederick led Australian authorities on a merry chase operating scam after scam mostly with impunity before leaving for the US.

He would fleece his victims by setting up half-baked or worthless businesses and offering victims a stake in them _ a partnership which allowed Frederick to sap any profit, or a valueless franchise or distributorship.

His enterprises included light trailer manufacturing, escort agencies, auto wreckers, transport companies, crash repairers, catering companies, and disposable camera suppliers.

Frederick would net 20,000 to over $100,000 on the promise of a big long-term income returns and would even hire factories and fittings to give prospective investors the impression his businesses were legitimate. His two most recent disposable camera ventures, Gold Coast Cameras Pty Ltd and Midas Photographics, alone took up to $1 million, snaring investors in Queensland , Western Australia , NSW, and Victoria . Frederick 's plans presented to victims were grandiose.

A business plan obtained by The Sunday Mail for his 1996 automotive repair franchise, Jupiters Mechanicals, proposed one hundred locations across Australia in six months.

It said the company's vice-president would be ``required to travel to the US in July of 1996 and commence opening four hundred locations across the USA .

``In January of 1997 she is required to open five hundred in Europe . So by the end of 1997 there will be one thousand Jupiters, that is only the start.

``The owner realised he could ... establish a business that was operated along the lines of one of the greatest food businesses in the world _ Kentucky Fried Chicken.''

Jupiters Mechanical actually opened only three garages at Mermaid Beach , Tweed Heads, and Coffs Harbour and all three businesses had crashed by March 1996, according to Robert Catt who lost $30,000 operating the Mermaid Beach partnership.

Mr Catt said his garage failed because Frederick owned 80 percent of it and was continually depleting it of funds.

He said he was aware of Frederick being involved in 40 to 50 ``projects'' at the time.

A computer search by The Sunday Mail revealed that in the same year, Frederick offered for sale up to five million tonnes of urea 46 fertiliser though ``International Ventures'' at Cayman Island on the Internet. Frederick also posted an Internet notice to purchase ``ships in any condition'' to transport his urea 45 stock.

On the Internet, he also offered importers exclusive rights in Singapore, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Russia to import and sell his new line of ``Bon Levi'' cigarettes, a scam which makes his former girlfriend chuckle as Frederick had forced her to give up smoking.

Frederick was born in Perth and originally trained as a motor mechanic before before being caught stealing aged 18.

In Western Australia he also was convicted of dishonesty offences, breaking and entering, aggravated assault, unlawful common assault, and drink driving.

As Ronald Frederick Heelan, he became WA`s longest serving bankrupt until his discharge in 1985, the year he changed his name by deed poll to Ron Frederick.

By 1988 he had re-emerged in South Australia as Roddy Farrow where he promoted his infamous motorised wheelbarrow.

Operated through Quik Holdings Ltd and Quik Power Ltd, Frederick even established mock production lines for the wheelbarrow to snare investors who each gave him $20,000 to $100,000.

When the scam collapsed, two investors were forced to sell their houses, a third had to remortgage his home, and a fourth was forced to sell his business.

They were dismayed when Frederick seemed to avoid jail when he received a good behaviour bond and 360 hours community service after pleading guilty to 33 counts of providing false and misleading information.

Eventually he was jailed in April 1991 when he thumbed his nose at authorities and failed to pay $50,000 in fines associated with this penalty. He remained incarcerated until early 1995.

While jailed, Frederick also pleaded guilty to charges over a 1990 fraud conspiracy where he, Coker, and another associate were paid $40,000 after pretending to have orders to supply 50,000 fuel economizers to Toyota Motor Corporation. Frederick received a two-year backdated sentence.

But he now faces a rude shock under a tougher US justice system which issues mandatary sentences of up to five years per count for fraud.

Mike Neal, who runs the Gold Coast fraud vigilante group White Knights, said his organisation is assisting 14 local victims of Frederick who collectively lost $500,000.

Mr Neal said the victims were delighted that Frederick had been arrested _ given his 30 months of scamming on the Gold Coast.

But they were equally disappointed that in two years Queensland authorities could not achieve what the FBI had in just three months _ Frederick 's arrest.

But Queensland fraud investigators must be heartened at the evidence emerging in the US which could see Frederick returned and on trial here.

According to the FBI, one of Frederick's close associates who attended his wedding and knows his businesses backwards, disposable camera supplier Paul Hickman, is now saying Frederick's Australian and US disposable camera operations involved fraud.

Evidence such as this suggests Ron the Con faces a bleak future back downunder when the US justice system spits him out.

Ronald Frederick's "businesses'' have included Quik Holdings Pty Ltd, Quik Power Ltd, Bon Levi Designer Merchandising, Auction Wholesalers, Randy Man Life 02, Sprintline, Bon Levi Cosmetics, Crazy Joe Tire and Mechanical, Eagle Trailers, Fredericks Taskmaster, Target Magazine, Dial-A-Chicken Australia, MGM Model Management and Talent Scout, Jupiters Mechanical, Gold Coast Cameras Pty Ltd, Midas Photographics, Midas Photographics USA Inc, and Top Snax USA Inc.