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Connie's story

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Connie Paglianiti

Losing money, time and myself

As a girl, all I knew was school and work. There was no time for fun. Italian girls didn’t go out.

I started working during school holidays at the age of 14 in factories. At 18, I started raising much-needed funds for charities and since then I’ve organised many charity events. Over the years I became a trusted person with an amazing reputation: if you want anything sorted, go to Connie.

… if you want anything sorted, go to Connie.

In the early 1990s, I started my own payroll and bookkeeping business. By the early 2000s I was elected president of the Carlton Traders Association. Then I started my own event company because I wanted to bring the new and very modern Italy to Melbourne, not the old Italy that doesn’t exist anymore.


This led to a business relationship with a con man who left me with more than $400,000 in debts. My credit cards were maxed to the hilt so I stole money from a client of over 20 years to pay back the small business creditors.

I got into such a depressive state that I turned to gambling for two reasons: one, to see if I could win enough money to get me out of the mess; and two, it was the only place I could forget about my troubles.

Of course it didn’t work and I lurched from one disaster to another. Over four years, I stole more than $6 million from my bookkeeping client to pay off my credit cards, gamble and pump funds into my events business.

I lurched from one disaster to another.

I was trying to reinvent myself. Who was I kidding?

I brought Sophia Loren to Australia for a charity event but this introduced me to another con man and huge sums disappeared into his pockets.

Hoodwinked again! It was like I had the sign ‘loser’ on my forehead.

Private vs public persona

To take away my pain, I’d play the pokies at the casino where there were no limits. I lost all track of time and money but also myself. Who was Connie now? I lost my pride. I wouldn’t borrow money to gamble but I’d steal money to gamble as if that was somehow more honourable.

I had two personas. I could still appear in public as a successful and trustworthy businesswoman; no stress. I was a good actress.

In private, I thought, ‘What the hell have I got myself into?’ I was withdrawn and just wanted to curl up and disappear. I couldn’t see past my own nose. I went to my GP about my migraines but that was the only help I ever sought.

What the hell have I got myself into?

There was only one way this was going to turn out. I had a gut feeling I was going to get caught and that’s what happened in September 2018. I was served with papers and that was when my husband and son first found out about my crime.

All our accounts were frozen and the legal process quickly escalated.

I was sentenced to two and half years in prison where I worked my butt off in the café and took on duties as requested. I made $8.95 a day using my skills.

It was tough, not just for me but for my whole family. I’m so lucky they all stuck by me.

Secrecy and shame

I’ve been out of prison for a year and now I’m looking for employment. I’m upfront about my past so of course I’m getting a lot of knockbacks. I see a Gambler’s Help counsellor regularly and mostly talk about all these rejections because I still feel like a bit of a prisoner in my own head. I thought the stigma of being a gambler was bad but the stigma of having been to prison is even worse.

I can’t go to the casino under the terms of my parole and there’s no way I want to go. I know I’m 99.9 per cent not a gambler anymore but also you never know. I can now understand the addiction some people have with alcohol and drugs. I had that same sort of compulsion with gambling but it’s not an excuse.

I’m 99.9 per cent not a gambler anymore…

I had this big secret that was weighing very heavily on me. I was caught and served my sentence. While that’s affected me in many negative ways, I feel that the heavy burden of secrecy has lifted, but not the shame.

I can’t hide. I’ve accepted what I’ve done after much soul searching and many sessions with a psychologist. I was a sucker and worked with some bad people.

Still, I’m responsible for getting off the path my parents put me on where you work hard to earn your own money.

If you stick with the truth, you can never get caught out.