A former senior police detective is at the centre of a major corruption and money laundering investigation by Queensland's Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).
Investigators are probing Michael Featherstone's links to senior serving and former police officers on the Gold Coast and elsewhere, his possible connections to bikies and his role in cold-calling companies alleged to be involved in fraud.
The companies, which advertise horse-racing betting software and other investments, are alleged to have defrauded hundreds of people across Australia in scams worth millions of dollars.
The ABC can reveal that officers from the Queensland police anti-bikie taskforce Maxima found suspected links to Mr Featherstone, a former fraud squad detective and one-time head of Surfers Paradise CIB, while investigating fraud allegations against members of the Black Uhlans and Bandidos outlaw motorcycle clubs earlier this year.
Police raided a number of premises including the Southport offices of Mr Featherstone's private investigations company Phoenix Global, taking away computer equipment.
They referred the matter to the CCC because of the body's forensic accounting expertise and the possible involvement of police officers in protecting Mr Featherstone, his clients and associates.
One senior police officer told the ABC: "We realised we can't have police officers investigating his links with other police."
The CCC has set up an operation called Lima Violin II to investigate fraud allegations involving three companies: UK Home Based Business (UKHBB), Lay Trading Solutions and Pegasus Trader.
However, a parallel investigation by the ABC's 7.30 program has uncovered evidence of the involvement of Mr Featherstone and Phoenix Global, not only with two of these companies but a range of alleged Gold Coast scams dating back almost 10 years.
They are linked to the Gold Coast private investigator in various ways - through his involvement in recruiting and managing patsy directors on behalf of others, by his own direct role as a director or shareholder, or by his providing advice on how to set up, run and protect such operations.
The ABC has identified dozens of customers of UKHBB who between them lost almost $4 million.
Several have told the ABC they received emails earlier this year saying their accounts had been suspended because of a "software problem".
But the ABC has established that there was no software problem: the order to close UKHBB came late last year from Phoenix Global.
Correspondence obtained by the ABC shows Phoenix Global recruited and gave day-to-day instructions to the directors of UKHBB and Pegasus Trading to carry out banking and other administrative jobs.Security guard recruited as UKHBB frontman
Johnny Kane, who works as a security guard, was recruited to be the director of UKHBB.
He has described to the ABC how Mr Featherstone convinced him to be the front-man for UKHBB and other companies, though Mr Featherstone had no official links with these companies and was not part of their management.
Mr Kane said his duties had also included picking up large quantities of cash from the bank and delivering it to the offices of UKHBB and Phoenix Global.
"Before Christmas I was asked to do that for about four days," Mr Kane said.
"We're talking $40,000 per cheque, three times a day, for about a week.
"I naturally asked, 'what's this money for?' and they said it was 'just wages, we're just lining it up before Christmas and this is just wages for staff and profits from the horse racing software'."
In an email from Phoenix Global to Mr Kane dated December 12, Mr Featherstone's son Zach asked him to "be available to close the UKHB bank accounts on the 24th of December 2013".
Bank statements show UKHBB collected at least $4 million in fees for trading licences in the second half of last year. More than a quarter of this was received in December.
Almost $500,000 was immediately withdrawn from the account by cheque in round amounts of between $5,000 and $40,000. A few weeks later the account was empty.
Separately, the ABC has established Mr Featherstone and Phoenix Global have played a central role in a series of other race-betting syndicates with a network of associates in Australia and overseas, one of whom is a convicted fraudster.
In an email discussing one such venture, Mr Featherstone wrote earlier this year: "This initiative should raise a lot of $$, but it is important that it is coordinated professionally... you will also need to consider timing and the medium of delivery, so that it doesn't appear to be a scam or cash grab."
Other documents show Phoenix Global used the name of someone who never worked at the company to create fake payslips that were used this year to obtain $150,000 of car finance as well as credit cards for one of these race-betting syndicates.
In a statement issued by his lawyers, Mr Featherstone denied any involvement in the running or management of UKHBB or any other race betting or software operation.
He acknowledged the instruction to close the UKHBB account had come from his office but said it was a "risk management" measure because of a "security breach", without providing further details.
Asked about the fake payslips, Mr Featherstone's lawyer said his client had provided a statement to police that "a person or persons had unlawfully used its brand to create a false document and forged our client's signature to gain an advantage".Featherstone delivered speech for high-ranking officer
Mr Featherstone has been photographed socialising with senior serving officers, was endorsed online by a Brisbane inspector and even gave a speech at a recent send-off for a high-ranking Gold Coast officer.
According to his lawyer, Mr Featherstone "was asked to make a short speech" at the event, a "farewell retirement for an officer he had served with in the 1980s".
The lawyer said Mr Featherstone "has no friendship or association with any serving police officer".
A former detective has told the ABC that he discovered Mr Featherstone's social links to this high-ranking officer while investigating fraud allegations on the Gold Coast and raised it with his superiors.
"They told me, 'don't go there'," he said.
Mr Featherstone was the subject of a detailed complaint to Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission in 2010 after it emerged he had done the work of Gold Coast police in collecting witness statements in a trespass case where the complainant was one of his clients.
There is no evidence of any action being taken against him.
NSW private investigator Ken Gamble, working on behalf of a group of scam victims, presented a detailed brief of evidence naming Mr Featherstone to the Queensland police fraud squad in 2012, but received no response.
The Queensland Police Service (QPS) said in a statement it had requested further information from Mr Gamble and that it had not been provided.
Mr Gamble said police had never made such a request and the QPS statement was "false and misleading".Former nightclub owner alleged to be key figure in scams
A key figure in the scams is alleged to be Phil Cropper, who is said to have been the sales manager of UKHBB and to have run other boiler-room operations linked to Mr Featherstone.
Mr Cropper, a former nightclub owner who was acquitted of an extortion attempt on actor Russell Crowe in 2002, is thought to have fled overseas since the raid on Mr Featherstone's premises and the ABC has been unable to contact him.
Mr Kane said he now faced bankruptcy because of lawsuits filed against him by victims.
Mr Kane said that while UKHBB was operating he had frequently sought and received reassurance from Mr Featherstone that what he was being asked to do was legal.
He said his home had been raided by police in February and he had later been shocked to find how widely known Mr Featherstone's activities were on the Gold Coast.
"When I went to Legal Aid to tell them about my story, they finished my story for me. They knew exactly what I was talking about," he said.
"They rattled off a list of names and said 'did you work for one of these people?' and I knew all the names.
"One of the names was Featherstone."