Tyler Wright's bookkeeper was arrested for allegedly stealing more than $1.5m from the surfing champion. It’s a cautionary tale for all sports stars, writes Paul Kent.
Tyler Wright's bookkeeper was arrested for allegedly stealing more than $1.5m from the surfing champion. It’s a cautionary tale for all sports stars, writes Paul Kent.

'World champ’s $1.5m wipe-out a warning for all stars

Few epitomise the laid-back lifestyle surfing has made famous quite like Tyler Wright.

Last year Wright wrote "Black Lives Matter" on her board before she surfed at Tweed and sometime before getting in to the water she kneeled next to her board for 429 seconds, all solemn, and a fist in the air to make her point.

Each second was to represent an Indigenous life taken in police custody since 1991.

She has been an advocate for gay marriage, Indigenous issues, unafraid to speak out on any of it. She was brought up in a family encouraged to think and speak.

Tyler Wright isn’t afraid to speak out on many issues. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Tyler Wright isn’t afraid to speak out on many issues. Picture: Nigel Hallett

In many ways this went away from the surf culture, where it was generally encouraged to not care too much about anything at all except how tall the waves were and where the party might be come darkness.

And once the money came, which was real money able to afford them a life few before had considered, many found the laid-back attitude worked to their advantage as few had a strong enough opinion on anything, really, to upset anybody. Sponsors like that.

Wright has challenged that in her own way, guided by her own conscience.

On Wednesday she celebrated her 27th birthday and somewhere in the day she got the quiet tip that, a long way from the Newcastle surf, police from Strike Force Strathwallen had knocked on a door in Vincentia where there lived a 53-year-old who once managed the books for Wright.

The woman was arrested and the allegations were staggering.

Shane Maree Hatton fronted Nowra Court later that day and was charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, police making 749 counts that she stole more than $1.5 million from the personal wealth of Wright and her brothers Owen and Mikey, who also surf on the world tour.

Police arrested and charged Shane Marie Hatton with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.
Police arrested and charged Shane Marie Hatton with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.

The money has gone to a place where it can never be retrieved. Police have alleged more than $1.2 million of it was spent on gambling and poker machines while the rest of it was wasted.

The woman was a family friend of the Wright family.

She began as a bookkeeper for the family business, mum and dad's R & F Wright's Plumbing, and it is believed such was her proficiency on the books inside the plumbing business that it was only natural she take over the finances when Wright and her brothers began surfing on the world tour.

Wright was 14 when she began competing in the World Surf League and was world champion by 22 and again a year later.

Like many on the tour her focus was always the next wave. As for the money and all that, it was fine, she had someone taking care of it.

Too many athletes have made this mistake too many times.

"There is a trend of family friends and relatives, who are less than qualified, managing large amounts of money and they can't resist the temptation of taking some of the money for themselves," said the State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett.

 

Trouble began last year when celebrity agent Nick Fordham, employed by Wright to handle her commercial interests, saw something in the books that did not quite add up.

Fordham called Det Bennett and out there at the Parramatta office of State Crime and, there, Bennett's shoulders slumped.

He passed it on to the fraud squad and Strike Force Strathwallen was formed in October.

These kinds of crimes frustrate him because they are completely avoidable.

Just two days ago he was reading about Vanessa Amorosi, who sings like a nightingale, suing her own mother Joyleen Robinson in court for missing royalties and touring income.

Amorosi is 39 and she says the money has been going missing for 19 years. However many millions that comes to is still being counted.

Last year a New Zealand court ordered former Warriors' backrower Elijah Taylor's former manager Ian Miles to pay him $484,824 last year after Taylor discovered more than $350,000 missing.

The money is gone; Miles has declared himself bankrupt.

And now Taylor plays in Salford, stretching what is left of his talent to try to rebuild his life.

 

Some months earlier police charged Titus Day with defrauding $1.15 million from Guy Sebastian, another singer who got famous early and put his faith in one man.

The fraud charges were withdrawn in December and replaced with embezzlement charges.

Sebastian said they were friends and discovered his missing money only after he asked to see details of his accounts.

That small request, to look into his own finances, is what Det Bennett is driving more young high income earners to do.

"They have a limited window for earning so they need to protect themselves," Det Bennett said. "The first thing they need to do is employ reputable companies, not family friends to handle their careers.

"They need to get contracts, and with legal advice. Then they need to take an interest in their money day to day and the movement of money in their bank accounts."

Too many athletes simply trust their money is being properly handled only to find out it all turned bad when it is too late.

Wright was too casual, too trusting, about her affairs.

 

She is said to be pragmatic about the missing money.

"Tyler is an incredibly strong and talented woman," Fordham said. "She will, of course, rebuild and continue her incredible success in and out of the water."

Wright got through Thursday's first heat before the surf vanished and forced two lay days.

She currently leads the World Surf League.

The film crew that produced the Formula 1: Drive to Survive documentary series is following her and the other women surfers around the world and this week a whole backstory fell in their lap.

As for Wright, she sits in Newcastle waiting for the waves to return, writing her new story.

SHORT SHOT

The talk before the fight with Tim Tszyu was that he had spent a lot of time in his training camp working on his body punches and that more than a few sparring partners failed to see out their rounds because of the body onslaught.

Then we watched Tszyu go out Wednesday night and completely shut down Irish contender Dennis Hogan with some body blows that were sickening.

 

The fight before, against Bowyn Morgan, word leaked that Tszyu was working on a sharper knockout punch. He stopped Morgan with a single blow in the first round.

There are few athletes in any sport able to reveal a dedication to improving in a certain areas before a contest and then are able to go out and so absolutely show how well they have done it. Yet Tszyu is doing it.

Every fight he takes is up a level on the opponent he had before, yet Tszyu improves by two levels.

When Tim's father, Kostya, was coming through the Russian system in the days of the old USSR, a coach watched him spar one day and remarked Kostya had been "touched by God".

The evidence is increasingly clear that the touch has been passed down.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Kent: World champ's $1.5m wipe-out a warning for all stars



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