Double life of glamorous food blogger
JUST one year ago, popular Darwin food blogger Aimee Pitman was cashed up and living her best life.
Today, Pitman is working for peanuts as a jailhouse hairdresser and estranged from family and friends.
The popular 27-year-old socialite's world came crashing down in May when she and her banker boyfriend Colin Voeuk, 32, were arrested for masterminding a Ponzi scheme selling fake investments in pub ATMs.
The pair was jailed on Tuesday for a minimum of four years after admitting to defrauding 17 people - many of them close family and friends - of a collective $1.7 million.
Friends of Pitman, who was widely admired in Darwin as a businesswoman, expressed shock at her fall from grace, with one former acquaintance describing her to news.com.au as "just a lovely girl".
Northern Territory photographer Jessica Christie, who captured Pitman in a series of stunning portraits just before her arrest in May last year, called her a "beautiful, kind-hearted woman" in a Facebook post.
"We spent the day laughing and talking like old friends and eating seriously good food!" Christie wrote of her subject.
The court heard how Pitman and Voeuk charmed their trusting victims into pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into an investment scheme which had no investments.
The scam relied on later investors buying into the scheme to pay "dividends" to earlier investors, according to the NT News.
But the greedy pair put only a fraction of the money into the fake business and blew the rest - more than $1 million - on their luxurious lifestyle over a four-year period.
"This is, in the history of the NT, one of the most significant frauds that the courts have seen," Crown Prosecutor David Morters told the court.
"Many people's lives have been, if not ruined, brought to the brink of ruin by the lies told by these offenders."
Among those betrayed by the greedy pair was Pitman's own father, who police allege lost an estimated $300,000.
Despite having been conned by his own flesh and blood, Pitman's father remained loyal by disputing the claim and insisting he gave her the money to boost her pre-packaged health food business Food is Life.
According to the Daily Mail, Mr Morters said that while he believed Pitman's father wasn't being untruthful, he had changed his story since he first spoke to police and speculated his account had been influenced by his fear of seeing his daughter jailed.
Mr Morters said months spent languishing in jail awaiting their hearing had ensured Pitman and Voeuk "now appreciate … the enormous ruin that they have done to others".
However, their remorse was "a little bit hard to put into perspective" given they persisted with their dodgy scheme for four years - from 2014 right up until police swooped in may this year.
"Over the course of the last seven months, sitting in a jail in the suburbs of Darwin, anyone would be remorseful," Mr Morters said.
Voeuk's barrister Jon Tippet, QC said his client had grown up poor and was motivated to make money as a "sign of success", the NT News reported.
"He's hurt a lot of people and he accepts that," Mr Tippett said.
Pitman's barrister, John Adams, said his client, who now works as a hairdresser in jail, had "not been able to provide a reason for her offending".
"It's mixed up, in my submission, with her desire to get ahead in life," he said.
Chief Justice Michael Grant said the duo had "frittered away" the more than $1 million they pocketed from the scheme.
Victim impact statements spoke of the betrayal and financial ruin felt by victims, he said.
He said Voeuk was "leading a double life" as a banker and a fraudster, while Pitman was "to some degree the face of the business", marketing the scheme to investors.
The couple was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail with a non-parole periods of four years.