Alleged bushfire charity fraudsters caught in bikie crackdown
Two alleged bikie associates have been arrested on the NSW south coast accused of making bogus claims for thousands of dollars in bushfire relief funds.
The men were arrested this morning as part of a sweeping NSW Police Criminal Groups Squad investigation targeting outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG) violence on the Far south coast.
A 33-year-old man is accused of receiving $20,000 after making a claim to the Red Cross for bushfire relief.
It will be alleged he claimed his home had been damaged or destroyed during the devastating fires over summer.
The other man allegedly submitted a claim for similar charity funding but was not successful.
It is understood both men are associates of the Nomads bikie gang members.
They are currently at Batemans Bay Police Station and are expected to face charges later today.
Another two men, including a senior member of the Nomads OMCG, were also arrested during this morning's operation.
A woman was also taken into custody for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
The arrests of the men - aged 25, 26, 31 and 33 - were part of a broader crackdown targeting bikie activity in the region and follows a spate of violence, including drive by shootings, late last year.
Thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes and tourists took shelter on the beach when destructive bushfires bore down on Batemans Bay over the Christmas holidays.
More than 500 homes were destroyed in the Eurobodalla Shire Council area, which covers Batemans Bay, during the fires.
Millions of dollars in donations has been received by charities, including the Red Cross, to assist genuine bushfire victims rebuild their lives again.
The Red Cross revealed this month it was already using cyber security experts to fend off hundreds of bot-generated claims for bushfire relief.
Australian Red Cross director of Australian Services Noel Clement said there had been "a couple of hundred claims" the charity had concerns with.
"We already know that there are several dozen claims that are suspicious," he said.
"We have already referred a number of cases to the police and we're liaising with police on those alleged cases.
"We've had cases where people have told us their homes have been destroyed, yet on direct inspection that has not been the case.
"In one community alone we had applications for 15 homes that we were told had been destroyed, none appeared on official damage assessments so we directly inspected the sites and discovered that none had been impacted by the fires."
Financial assistance has been handed out to more than 2600 people who have lost their homes, been hospitalised or lost family members, Mr Clement added.