Brothers left devastated by $1m blackmail plot
A "brutal" extortion scam brought one of Adelaide's most prominent retail families to its knees and left its innocent victims so concerned for their own safety they didn't even trust customers in their own stores, a court has heard.
More than two years after members of the Romeo Retail Group received their first extortion letter, two of the three brothers at the heart of the blackmail attempt have recounted their anguish.
Joseph Romeo and his brothers Paul and Anthony were told that unless they paid a million dollars their blackmailer would spread allegations against them.
The details of the blackmail letter have been suppressed by the courts but have been strongly denied by the brothers.
In a victim impact statement read to the court by the prosecution, Joseph Romeo said he initially thought the letter was a joke.
"From our humble beginnings to now, my brothers and I worked physically hard, been mentally exhausted, felt and dealt with the intense pressure of business dealings, but nothing prepared me for the emotional turmoil and brutality of the extortion situation I have experienced since November 2017," he said.
"On receiving the extortion letter, I honestly thought it was a joke. I brushed it off and reassured the family, thinking nothing would come of it.
"But then the phone calls started and so did the personal anguish."
He said the extortion attempt led to a feeling of "penetrating distrust".
"Not knowing who was behind such a disgusting attempt to extort my family was akin to torture," he said.
In his victim impact statement, Anthony Romeo said every waking thought had been spent worrying about the extortion attempt.
"To make things worse I couldn't be sure that any of the people I was in regular communication with were not part of the blackmail," he said.
The statement was read to the court on Wednesday as part of sentencing submissions for Adrian Malusa, who pleaded guilty to trying to steal $250,000 from the Romeo family.
Judge Paul Muscat noted Malusa's involvement in the actual scam was limited.
Instead, he said, ringleader and former Romeo employee Christopher Daniel Garuccio was responsible for the anguish suffered by the brothers.
Malusa worked for one of the Romeos' suppliers and had loaned Garuccio $320,000 to start his own business.
When that failed, Garuccio moved to Sydney to work for the Romeo Retail Group.
He was eventually fired and, still owing money to Malusa, decided to "kill two birds with one stone".
"He was motivated by revenge and trying to obtain money to clear his debt," Judge Muscat said.
Malusa and other men were arrested on December 13, 2017.
Garuccio was sentenced to two years and six months in prison on three counts of blackmail in October 2018, with a non-parole period of 15 months.
Malusa will be sentenced on Friday.