Durban conwoman’s crowdfunding gamble backfires
Durban - Admitted fraudster Cindy Saunders took a gamble this week on getting some cash through crowdfunding ‒ but she lost after angry ex-clients had her campaigns shut down.
In a bizarre twist in the container con case, Cindy Saunders, who pleaded guilty to 45 counts of fraud in the Durban Magistrate's Court last month, appealed on crowdfunding sites this week to raise funds to help her deal with her "gambling addiction".
Her next court appearance is on April 30 for pre-sentencing reports.
In the court case, Saunders faced more than 140 charges including fraud, corruption, forgery, theft and money laundering for defrauding her previous employer, a Durban shipping company, out of millions of rand.
According to the charge sheet, Saunders had tendered her resignation from the shipping company in October 2018 after a meeting with the managing director. In court papers, the company said that during this meeting she disclosed that she had been defrauding the company and indicated that she "had a gambling problem and owed several ’loan sharks’ money“.
She appeared in court with a second accused, Terence Raju. The pair allegedly schemed together, fictitiously buying and selling containers and channelling the money into their own accounts.
Saunders was put in the media spotlight after a Carte Blanche report in which numerous families emigrating from South Africa complained that she had not paid over money, which had been paid to her company, Precise Shipping, to have their containers shipped. Shipping companies around the world told Carte Blanche that Saunders owed them “millions” in unpaid shipping costs.
The same complaints were aired about Precise Shipping on different consumer sites, which has since been liquidated because of the “impact of the Covid pandemic”, according to Saunders.
On Monday this week, Saunders posted a long plea for funds on crowdsourcing site, GoFundMe where she indicated she would like to raise £30 000 (about R600 000).
Under a headline, “Gambling Addiction ‒ This Is A Real Addiction”, an extract of Saunders’ post reads: "I have a gambling addiction I know I'm not proud of. I'm facing criminal charges because of an addiction that made me a monster.
"I sit here today fighting for my life, knowing I have tried to confess everything and fix my wrongs, but being a compulsive gambler comes with a price and for me, it's a cost.
"Currently my sentence is sitting at a minimum 15 years and I'm fighting to prove a gambling addiction is real and there are millions who suffer with this addiction. In order for me to do this I have to undergo treatment that comes with a huge cost that I don't have.
"I'm asking everyone to please hear my story and even if it's R100 that is donated, it will help fight gambling awareness and prove this illness."
Saunders listed the bank account details on the GoFundMe page as belonging to Durban lawyer Carl van der Merwe, who has been representing Saunders in the court case. But Van Der Merwe said in an email reply to the Independent on Saturday this week that "Carl van der Merwe and Associates advise that we are not participating in any GoFundMe page".
On Wednesday another plea for cash from Saunders appeared on SA crowdfunding site ClickNDonate, with the same heading and text, but with her own banking details and a goal wishlist of R100 000.
By Thursday morning the GoFundMe page had been shut down, with ClickNDonate following suit later in the day. Neither page appeared to have received any donations.
Former clients of Precise Shipping expressed outrage at Saunders' attempt to raise money via crowdfunding sites after having pleaded guilty to fraud. They asked both sites to shut her campaigns down.
In a combined statement, they said: "We have all lost so much and not just in monetary terms but our household goods, special memorabilia and damage to our lives when we all decided to use Precise Shipping Solutions Pty Ltd.
"This new scam with GoFundMe and ClickNDonate is just so unbelievable and this woman is clearly not of sound mind because she has not even shown an ounce of remorse and deserves to be jailed for the rest of her life as she clearly is a danger to civilised community.“
Another angry client said: "The best treatment Cindy Saunders can now have will not cost her a cent. Spend some time in jail. I am pretty sure that will cure her. I have no words."
ClickNDonate said it could only respond to queries next week because their marketing manager was away. GoFundMe had not responded at time of publication.
Established South African crowdfunding site BackaBuddy said their campaign creators underwent a full vetting process. Saunders did not have any campaign appeals on BackaBuddy.
The vetting process included proof of identity, an investigation into all supporting documents (such as medical records) for evidence that the project is legitimate, as well as checking with references supplied by the campaign creator and that funds collected will preferably be paid directly to an institution, university or supplier/service provider.
"Trust is the cornerstone of our organisation,“ BackaBuddy chief operating officer Catherine du Plooy said yesterday. ”When a campaign is flagged or reported, we act swiftly to investigate the issue and communicate our findings with both the campaign creator and their donors. When a project is found to be illegitimate, it is removed from our platform to ensure the safety of our community."
She added that before supporting a campaign, the public should ensure that a campaign is on a legitimate crowdfunding site, learn more about the campaign creator by doing a social media and Google search, and check to see if the campaign has not been duplicated on an overseas platform. Also check to see if the campaign has been featured in mainstream media.
The Independent on Saturday