Below is an extract of a letter written several years ago (perhaps around 2017) by Andrew Gartrell to the Hall family patriach, Fred Hall and no doubt his wife Pam Hall, parents of Bernard Hall of Caernarvon Cherry and Biteriot fame which goes into a series of dubious transactions or activities conducted by Bernard & Fiona Hall and through their company at the time Caernarvon Cherry.
For more information – chat with us live using our instant chat tools (bottom corners), book an appointment or call now on 1300-327123 (till late).
Dear Fred and family,
Firstly I must thankyou Fred for the wonderful times I had in my teens with polocrosse teams that you facilitated and arranged for us. I remember most fondly practise days at Towac Park, carnivals across the length and breadth of the state and your various mentoring and simple wisdoms that you provided us all at that time. I really believe you had a great influence on my early life and my sister and I were very lucky to have become involved with your family at that time.
Curiously through my 20’s / 30’s and early 40’s I saw little of the family except for Bernard and Tim on occasion through our involvement in the fruit industry and neighbours at Melrose. As neighbours Tim and I never really ‘clicked’ and I always felt he had some point or other to win with me. I still enjoyed catching up with David every now and then and the more things change the more they stay the same and I still regard David as a close friend.
Around 5 years I ago I became progressively more involved with Bernard and Fiona and their fruit packing business at Caernarvon. Initially I regarded both Bernard and Fiona as close friends and confidents. I enjoyed visiting them and slowly slowly without realising I got drawn into their web of deception. Curiously David warned me one time 3 or 4 years ago “Garbs be careful these 2 (Fiona and Bernard) are just after your ideas and really don’t give a shit about you’’ – I laughed off David’s words but of course in time I was to understand how he was spot on with his judgement.
Today I am living in the Philippines operating a modest fruit brokerage business near Clark in the Philippines. We trade US, South African, Egyptian, and Moroccan, Australian fresh produce (apples, citrus, stonefruits etc) across around 10 Asian countries principally Indonesia, China and Hong Kong. I have travelled around the world numerous times in this role (the African continent 4 times in the past 12 months for instance). I live in a modest house with a nice young girlfriend and my past life in Australia does at times seem a long time ago but the actions of Bernard and Fiona and perhaps a small degree Tim have cost me well more than a million dollars in unpaid debts, unhonoured contracts, stolen IP and lost assets built upon 30 years of hard work and sacrifice from my side. The core dishonesty of the Bonnyglenn and Caernarvon companies that drove the fraudulent payroll system / Centrelink scams that these companies relied upon to source cheap labour has further unwittingly (perhaps) seen my autistic son Richard given a life sentence of imprisonment in a padded cell house with chipboard windows without a view.
- In December 2013 I harvested what I believed to be the cherry crop of a lifetime. In a year when cherries were in short supply with solid pricing and I had a big crop exceeding 300,000 kg. There was no rain and the fruit was clean and averaged 26mm with more 28mm than 24mm. It was Caernarvon‘s biggest attempt at large scale cherry packing and it was their also their first foray into large scale ‘trust account’ type cherry marketing. Fiona pitched her packing charges at the higher end of the scale to account for the possible unknown.
The crop sold for around $1,700,000. Even the pickers were paid around $350,000 which was deducted from the $1,700, 000 gross sales. Andrew ultimately got paid about $150,000 for the crop net of the Caernarvon charges which was probably a bit less than I spent growing that crop. Caernarvon = $1.2m , Pickers = $350 K , Farmer = $150 K
Put simply Caernarvon ended up with over $1,200,000 of my $1,700,000 gross sales in 2013 to cover their packing and marketing inputs. Only later was I able to piece together the gross fraud associated with the packing of my cherry crop in 2013 and I learned that large amounts of fruit had been directed in bulk or plain packaging to a north coast retailer (amongst others) who was operating a chain of roadside fruit outlets and buying truckloads of cherries from the shed. He paid cash and his truck was loaded after midnight. Contained on the Caernarvon pack out summaries the fruit was cleverly recorded as ‘waste’.
It’s also worth noting that the following year in 2014 Caernarvon dramatically reduced their packaging charges however no refund was ever offered to me.
So from the cherry crop of a lifetime I received less than half of what the pickers received? At the time in January 2014 my life was in a state of flux with the failure of my marriage and Caernarvon was offering many future goodies to me which included a lucrative export services agreement and lease of my farm. I was still blissfully unaware of how the Caernarvon pack outs had been manipulated, nor the extent of cash sales or the simple fact that I had been grossly overcharged in the first packing season as the proverbial guinea pig.
Fiona and Bernard were however waving a lucrative export services agreement and viable lease of my farm under my nose so I somehow shrugged off the disastrous 2013 result and moved on believing that Caernarvon and I were still on the same team.
- I spent 15 years of my life putting together an alliance of cherry growers with 25 new orchard plantings and over 120,000 trees in districts such as Mudgee, Wellington, Cudal etc. it was a holistic package with agronomic support, fruit packing and export sales. I travelled extensively to Asia and put together a panel of quality buyers and further developed a unique cherry juice product for our endless nemesis being cracked rain affected cherries. It was all done on the smell a proverbial rag and my fledgling enterprises went from one small cash flow crisis to the next but the fundamental vision of an alliance of cherry growers packing under one brand to the export market was very sound. Alongside this Bernard and Fiona were strong in the pocket, had a large shed and were keen to pack fruit for a living. Bernard and Fiona had however few cherry grower clients, no access to the export market or knowledge on processing cherries into juice. It seemed obvious to bring the two entities together and so we did. The financial reward for my bringing the farms, export markets and processing knowledge to the table for Caernarvon is contained is attached to this letter entitled in a contract entitled ‘services agreement’
As you can see in the contract Fiona signed off on a 5 year plus package valued at $7500 per month, plus bonuses and travel costs. The contract was valued at perhaps $600,000 over the coming years for which I would provide export sales and was a return for all of my goodwill (cherry growers, export buyers and cherry juice formula). In turn this gave Bernard and Fiona the confidence of supply to go out and buy the large GP cherry grader – so at face value it was a win win for everyone.
Of course what I was never to know that Fiona had no real intention of honouring our agreement and simply paid me for the first 4 or 5 months until she had all my growers and buyers lists, knowledge of the export market and cherry juice formula.
One day she casually called me around the back of the cottage at Carnarvon as she poured me a wine and said ‘that things are really tough for Bernard and I financially at the moment and I need a payment holiday for a few months’. More fool me because it seems after 2 years of no payments the payment ‘holiday’ has become an ‘extended vacation’ and Fiona and Bernard have simply stolen all of my years’ work without ever paying for it as agreed. I am out of pocket for over $500,000 on this one alone. They had no ideas or IP of their own they just stole my vision and two decades of work without paying for it. They had no plan other than to steal just mine.
Even when I saw the vast extensions to the Caernarvon homestead and Fiona boasts of $10,000 rugs for the lounge room I really still believed (at first) that they would remember me sometime soon and pay my agreed debt.
- Along with entering the aforementioned ‘services agreement’ with Caernarvon it made sense to also lease Caernarvon my cherry orchard at Nashdale as I was going to set up an office in Asia and concentrate on export sales. My marriage to Angela was at an end and I was keen to move on so a change from farming would work well. A 3 year lease was negotiated at $2500 per month plus a $0.20 per box royalty for each box picked. The orchard was picking between 200 to 300 tonnes of cherries each year so it was quite realistic to expect that I should receive a net income of around $60,000 pa from my orchard (say $5000 per month plus) from the fixed and royalty portion of the harvest combined.
What I of course did not know that Bernard, Fiona and Tim were very keen to buy my orchard having purchased my old shed the year before. My orchard lay in between Melrose and my former shed and with a vast water supply it would be an ideal addition. They were also well aware that I had a high debt load and if the put enough pressure upon me I would collapse financially affording them the opportunity to buy my farm for a song.
From the outset the lease to Caernarvon became a nightmare with rent not being paid on time and endless dishonesty in relation to the supposed yields. The orchard had always picked around 200 tonnes of cherries per year but instead of 600 possible tons over the 3 year lease period I believe Fiona reported some 100 tons in total over the 3 years. In October 2015 we were forced to take Caernarvon to the NCAT tribunal just to get our basic rent paid up to date.
I had mortgage payments on my house and farm of around $8000 per month but went into our agreements with Caernarvon holding a $7500 per month services agreement and a $6000 odd per month orchard lease but with defaults on both my services agreement and orchard lease I was quickly under a huge amount of pressure with my bankers and my bankers dialled up the pressure for me to sell.
Caernarvon perhaps not surprisingly offered the estate agents a sum of about half what my farm was worth and deliberately let the grass grow a metre deep, no pruning or weed spraying and sabotaged every possible sale of my farm. The estate agent advised me that Tim was even known to pull down the various for sale signs along the road at nights.
Bernard, Fiona and to a lesser degree Tim had created the perfect storm for me. They were not honouring our $13,500 per month agreements / leases / contracts and were sabotaging the sale of my orchard so they could secure a bargain for themselves.
- Just two little stories from earlier in the chronology. In January 2014 when I sold Tim and Bernard my packing shed there had been a problem with the electricity meter at the time of settlement and it was agreed between Tim and I to leave the account in my name until it was sorted. Bonnyglenn filled the rooms to the doors with new season apples and the electricity meters ran night and day under my name cooling their fruit. By August there was over $24,000 owing on my name and all of a sudden Tim really didn’t see that he should have to pay the account ‘because the Woodward Road Coop electricity rate was much lower’ – hard to know what that had to do with things but ultimately I had to write a legal demand to Bonnyglenn for the debt and in the interests of long term goodwill (remember this was very early in our relationship) accept around $8000 less from Tim than I owed to Origin Energy. Bernard said ‘I don’t want to get involved that’s Tim project up there’ so I ‘took it for the team’ and chipped in $8000 for reasons not well understood by me to coolstore Bonnyglenn apples that year. (I trust they sold well for you)
- The second more sinister story was the last conversation I had with Bernard in about June 2015. I had left a $30,000 cherry hydro cooling machine at my former shed for the use of Caernarvon and it simply disappeared in late 2014. I rang Bernard regularly about what might have happened to the machine and I think he enjoyed sending me on lots of crazy wild goose chases as to its possible whereabouts over the ensuing months.
I had a buyer for the machine at around $25,000 and was still making bank payments on this uninsured machine that had simply vanished whilst left in Bernard’s and Tims care. In our last conversation Bernard advised ‘I think Pinko (the refrigeration company) has your cooler – lot of bad blood between you guys and I think they took it”. At the time I even thanked Bernard for the lead and planned a clandestine reconnaissance of the Pinkertons property.
I was taken aback to receive a phone call the very next morning from a Mudgee cherry grower who advised ‘I just got a phone call from Bernard Hall, he has your old hydro cooler in his shed on Canobolas Road , I looked at it a few months ago and I want to buy it. He is asking $10,000 cash’. I rang Bernard immediately and asked for an explanation and he hung up on me being the last conversation we ever had.
- So here I was with my former friends Bernard and Fiona stealing my equipment and dishonouring our service agreements and in possession of my farm whilst defaulting / cheating on my lease. Instead of $13,500 per month in income they promised I found myself chasing Caernarvon even for the fixed $2500 portion of the lease every month. My bank payments fell into arrears and my farm and family home were lost. The farm was valued at around $1,200,000 and was sold for $850,000 (Bernard offered $350,000) and our lovely home valued at $1,100,000 (see attached) was sold for $850,000. After legals, other creditors and penalty rates etc Angela got around $___ from the wash up and I got zero. So I now have no farm, no house and no reward for my years of developing the cherry business. (also less than $___ in super)
But I guess I still have my kids??
- My ex-wife suffered a complete nervous breakdown during this period and attempted suicide with the ambulance called to the house on two occasions. Angela could not live with the pain of losing her house and became grossly depressed. On two occasions she threatened also to take the life of our autistic son Richard also. Family and Community Services took the threats most seriously and placed Richard into an emergency foster care arrangement.
Bernard and Fiona saw the opportunity to cleverly exploit the situation and provided Angela with a full time job at the packing sheds they operated. With no communication between Angela and I they cleverly convinced her that their defaults on our $13,500 per month agreements were not the cause of the problem or the loss of her house but ‘that your ex-husband Andrew was a bad person’ and ‘look at all the problems he has caused’ etc. Given I had left the marriage and was living in the Philippines with a new partner Angela naturally took little convincing that I was indeed the villain. ….
- Here is a reminder Fred of how the payroll / Centrelink ‘scam’ operated by both Bonnyglenn and Caernarvon Company’s works.
A. As a cost saving measure the Bonnyglenn and Caernarvon companies target pensioners, unemployed and others on various commonwealth benefits to make up a significant proportion of their apple and cherry orchard / packing shed labour force. This gives the companies a financial advantage over their competitors by securing a ready stand by workforce for the packing sheds and the ability to pay below hourly rates on occasion.
B. New employees are requested by the proprietors to complete numerous tax file declarations with different names, tax file details and address. It was also required that new employees complete one tax file declaration providing their correct name, tax file number and address.
C. Caernarvon and Bonnyglenn proprietors would then hold the tax file declaration forms back for a period of around 4 weeks and then lodge both the fraudulent and correct tax file declarations on behalf of their employees.
D. The ATO would take a further 2 months plus to process the submitted tax file declarations and then write back to the proprietors merely advising them to deduct a higher marginal income tax deduction from those declarations that failed the data matching process. At around this time those now exposed ‘phantom’ employees would be asked by the proprietors to submit new bogus tax file declarations and the ‘game’ appears to go on forever. At or about that time the now exposed ‘phantom’ employees disappears and his / her role on the fruit packing line is taken up by another ‘phantom’ employee
E. By submitting a correct tax file declaration and applying perhaps a day or two per month of salary against this bonafide person an aura of credibility descends into the process and gives a degree of protection to all parties if a snap audit took place or Centrelink notices that the ‘phantom’ was not at home on a particular day. The occasional day here and there of bonafide employment also covers everyone in the event of a mishap or workplace accident
F. In the chaos of fruit harvests employing hundreds of persons blended into a significant itinerant workforce including foreign back packers and various other fraudsters and characters having 50 or 60 ‘phantoms’ each year is quite achievable and will not apparently overly attract attention. Ultimately the ‘phantoms’ still remit a small amount of tax and escape attention in their brief 3 month or so horticultural employment stint. This special payroll / Centrelink scam model would not work so readily in more structured or office / industrial workplaces but out in the fruit orchards it’s just fine and dandy
G. Your various employees’ details both real and ‘phantom’ are entered into the MYOB log and subsequently each paid by cash cheque and not direct deposit. The name of the real or alternatively ‘phantom’ employee is entered on the cheque butt but the cheque is made payable to cash. This all works swimmingly with the only real moment of truth coming when the Westpac bank ask for ID and endorse same on the back of the cheque before cashing. The Westpac tellers of course have no idea what name has been written on the cheque butt back at your office so the scam continues on without a hitch. Unless someone (like the ATO or Centrelink) audited all the reverse side of the Westpac cash cheque) and then the game would be up for everyone. Ooops
Fred I have little doubt that the payroll / Centrelink scam operated by Bernard and Fiona associated companies would likely be the largest Centrelink scam ever known. Goodness knows what the fall out for the family would be if the truth was ever tabled. We have many colourful personalities like Claudio Cianfrano, Dee, Inga, Pacita, Jan and Tony etc enjoying your very real assistance and involvement to obtain both a wage and a Centrelink / commonwealth payment. With let’s say 10 – 15 of your ‘phantom personalities’, each defraud with your companies assistance $15,000 plus per year from the Commonwealth, over even the last 5 years would see Australian society out of pocket for perhaps $500,000 to $1,000,000. Of course your companies have all gained a commercial advantage by having access to a cheap and secure workforce so everyone involved are winners.
Fred do you recall the cold winters night in around 2013 when I went to your house to discuss with you Bernard and Tim the matter of a DA for a road I was building along your boundary? Do you remember how the discussion changed to include operation of the packing shed and family matriarch Pam warning Bernard that their creative employment scam was a recipe for a disaster. Pam is pure and honest with the highest degree of integrity always – but not the next generation whose real god is just money.
- However in writing today my real concern was to better explain firstly how Bernard, Fiona schemes had destroyed me financially rather than discuss how these family companies defrauded the Commonwealth and for you to better consider how these matters have affected my children now and into the future.
So we come to the matter of the ongoing care and custody of my autistic son Richard. Currently he is in the care of FACS and a few weeks ago a formal hearing was conducted by phone to determine his future and guardianship.
Angela was well prepared for the hearing because she had legal aid including a barrister and lawyer present. (This was all because as a pensioner she only apparently earned less than $1500 per year working for Bernard, Fiona and Tims companies for 3 to 4 days per week and up to 70 hours per week in the cherry season = hourly rate of about $0.50). She filed her material on time and presented logical well prepared affidavits and evidence as to why Richard should become a ‘ward of the state’ and be confined in a secure home with padded walls and chipboard windows ‘for his own good’
My position in the custody hearing was that Richard should come to the Philippines and live with me. I struggled attending the proceeding unrepresented and by phone from the Philippines. I could not afford the likely $15,000 plus for legal representation in these matters and I think I looked like a bungling disorganised fool on most occasions.
The wash up of the hearing was that Richard’s custody was given to the state rather than have him live with me in my house. He now lives in a padded cell house with chipboard windows in Remano Drive. The kitchen is in wire cage and the TV inside a glass box. He has no sunlight or children his own age in the house just 2 full time carers who pump him full of sedatives and grind his imagination and aspirations into dust.
Consider how different Richards life may have been if Bernard and Fiona had honoured our agreements and Angela could have kept her house and avoided her nervous breakdown or not had free access to the best solicitors Centrelink can buy.
- The final story in this sad saga should be the poisoning of the cherry crop going back to January 2016. I came back to Australia in December 2015 to attempt to better monitor the harvest (and my subsequent royalty payments). It was impossible to get timely auditable information from Fiona but what I could see was that Caernarvon was getting further and further behind with the harvest. Claudio Cianfrano was the orchard manager (a bankrupt using Caernarvon‘s payroll scam to defeat his trustee and creditors and gain a 2nd Centrelink salary) and he had little idea how to manage an orchard of that magnitude. I took a week away over new year and came back in early January to find a staggering 3000 odd cherry trees unpicked with ripe large cherries most of which were either not damaged or with small inconsequential nose splits. I immediately saw the obvious u pick opportunity and notified Caernarvon by email that we intended to re-enter the property to mitigate our losses. Claudio Cianfrano even went and got my ladders and remarked ‘no idea why Bernard didn’t pick this fruit – I think it all got too much for him’. I arranged 15 tourist coaches and spent $6000 advertising on Sydney radio. I think I had 500 plus people attending the next day and with dry weather ahead it was finally a chance to get something back from the last 3 years of financial malaise and I was feeling encouraged when I left the property at 8.30pm on the Friday evening.
I arrived at the orchard at 4.30am on Saturday morning with picking buckets and supplies waiting for the Sydney hordes to arrive at my u pick weekend. I think I nearly died to see a large waring sign erected through the night at the entrance to the orchard warning that the fruit was ‘not fit for human consumption’. I could smell the acrid odour of insecticide in the air and noticed wheel tracks in the dewy grass on every 4th or 5th row. In these rows the trees were still dripping wet and in the other rows the trees were dry. A tractor and spray cart sat at the spray fill with a warm crank case and a new container of an off label insecticide on the work bench.
I gained the sickening realisation that someone had between 8.30pm Friday and 4.30am Saturday had sprayed occasional rows of the orchard with an insecticide as a ‘spoiler’ for my u pick salvage operation. My fears were confirmed when at 7.00am Saturday I received an email on my phone from Caernarvon‘s lawyer advising that the orchard had been sprayed overnight as part of a ‘routine best horticultural’ practise. (Funny time for a lawyer to write?)
That day was confusing with endless persons turned away and disappointment at every turn. My girlfriend consumed a lot of cherries that day trying to convince me that much of the fruit might not be sprayed. Later in the day she felt sick and vomited so I took her to the Orange Base Hospital.
If we needed any further proof as to the lack of character of Bernard and Fiona they both ignored our texts from the hospital enquiring as to what insecticide had been sprayed on the trees that fateful evening to assist Catherine. Some weeks later Catherine was to have a miscarriage. The EPA subsequently confirmed the trees were sprayed with Carbryl.
So let’s consider where things have ended up shall we Fred.
For reasons not clear to me Bernard and Fiona (and to a small degree Tim) have cheated me out of many hundreds of thousands. Further neither Bernard nor Fiona are overly bright so they have simply stolen my ideas and put the ‘BITERIOT’ badge on them. In withholding my monies and cheating on agreements they have caused me to lose my assets that I spent my life working for. They were quality and unique properties that I lost with their assistance and were part of my DNA and heritage. (6th generation farmer)
Bernard, Fiona have for years operated a payroll / Centrelink ‘scam’ in cooperation and conjunction with their employees that would likely have seen the citizens of Australia defrauded by an amount of money easily exceeding $500,000.
A combination of their cheating and dishonesty has caused Angela’s nervous breakdown and with the further assistance of their companies payroll scam allowed her to access legal aid in the matter of my autistic sons custody. Through a fairly easy to follow chain of events that your family engineered Richard is now imprisoned for the rest of his life in a group home with padded walls and chipboard windows.
I have to seek written permission to see my son now and he will never do the fun stuff (like polocrosse) that I enjoyed. Bernard and Fiona children however will grow up on a farm, ride ponies and enjoy the better things that their parent’s ill gained affluence has given them. When those kids are in their 20’s at Uni Richard will still be locked up in a padded cell.
So Fred it’s over to you. I have asked my old pal David to deliver this email to you in person and ask him to read it with you. Since we were kids you always painted David as the black sheep and villain of the family but David’s heart is much purer than you know. I have also asked him to send it to all the other Hall siblings (Shauna, Josie and Fi) whom I wish the very best and thank them for all those wonderful things in our teens we shared back then. You Fred are the wise old man and my past mentor so what should I do know? Forgive and forget? Or throw these 3 enterprising crooks under the proverbial bus and end this Biteriot nonsense forever?
Over to you
Would you like to tell us confidentially about your experiences?
For more information – chat with us live using our instant chat tools (bottom corners), book an appointment or call now on 1300-327123 (till late).