A file picture of Michael O?Neill. He was remanded in custody after appearing in Armidale Local Court yesterday.
A file picture of Michael O?Neill. He was remanded in custody after appearing in Armidale Local Court yesterday.

Fast footwork

By TOBY WALKER

ELITE Sports Program (ESP) director Michael O'Neill on Saturday used the pages of the Coffs Coast Advocate to angrily deny allegations he had scammed money from the local soccer community.

In a letter to the paper, Mr O'Neill claimed families who paid $125 upfront for their kids to attend a soccer clinic scheduled last December, but cancelled the day before it was to begin, would get their money's worth.

"A three-day intensive program is being established for the April long weekend," the letter stated.

Yesterday, Mr O'Neill, 36, was before Armidale Local Court, where he was remanded in custody after police executed a warrant, believed to be related to a parole violation stemming from a drug supply conviction, for which he had been serving weekend detention in Grafton jail.

It is unclear how long he will remain in custody.

Yesterday, The Daily Examiner's investigations into Mr O'Neill's dealings elicited numerous examples of businesses and individuals left thousands of dollars out of pocket. A former Grafton Ghosts player and first grade cricketer in the Clarence Valley, Mr O'Neill is known to many between Yamba and Coffs Harbour.

Private investigator Bruce Dwyer has been on Mr O'Neill's trail for some time.

Together with an independent Coffs Harbour weekly paper, Mr Dwyer had offered a $500 reward for information about Mr O'Neill's whereabouts and worked pro bono to help parents retrieve the money paid for the doomed soccer camp.

Despite the Coffs Harbour soccer community's recent experiences with Mr O'Neill, he held a similar clinic at Yamba last September which went ahead without complications.

Mr Dwyer said he had received 'an enormous amount' of information about Mr O'Neill since offering the reward, some of which eventually helped to trace him to his workplace at Armidale's Telstra Shop.

Mr Dwyer said despite his nefarious reputation, Mr O'Neill seemed to possess personal charm, enough to win the enduring support of some women.

"WE had one of his female acquaintances ring up saying there were only five or six (kids enrolled for the clinic) and that he had refunded all their money," he said.

Mr Dwyer said his inquiries suggested this was just not the case.

"He seems to have a Rasputintype ability to be able to hypnotise females and get them to say whatever he wants," he said.

Yesterday, detectives said there was no ongoing investigation into the cancelled soccer clinic but encouraged anyone with a complaint to come forward.

The Department of Fair Trading confirmed one complaint had been made about ESP and encouraged people who felt they had been scammed, to complain.



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