THEY used to be good friends and have done business deals together for decades, close enough to respect - and protect - each other's interests.
Now it seems, from the outside at least, that notorious Newcastle con man Lemuel Page and his long-term friend, former dot.com rich lister Theo Baker, are at odds and preparing for a fight over a multimillion-dollar property portfolio.
A Newcastle Herald investigation can reveal that Mr Baker, who was instrumental in helping Page avoid jail in 2018 on a fraud conviction, has appointed receivers to two companies linked to the con man in an effort to recover almost $7 million.
The companies, Shyzi Pty Ltd and Ohmut Pty Ltd, are controlled by Page's ex-wife and close associate Fiona Page, and hold five properties estimated to be worth more than $12 million.
They include a $6.5 million boarding house at Waratah and $1 million shed at Wickham.
Ms Page also listed among the assets late last year a $3 million property on the water at Port Douglas, which her and Page have been renovating, two Sydney properties valued at $2 million and a Ferrari 458 Speciale V8.
But according to Ms Page, the Ferrari that she valued at $600,000 - which was purchased in 2015 and is financed by BMW Australia - is missing.
On a list of assets supplied to receivers Kate Conneely and Rahul Goyal, of KordaMentha, Ms Page has written that the luxury car's "location is unknown".
In reports to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), the receivers have estimated the two companies owe $17.6 million, including $3.7 million claimed by Ms Page, $6.3 million owed to the National Australia Bank and $6.9 million claimed by Mr Baker as a director of lender CL Asset Holdings Pty Ltd.
It's understood the property portfolio could include the last remaining significant assets from Page's once grand empire.
Page's lengthy career as one of Newcastle's most notorious scam merchants came to a very public end in July 2017 when he was convicted of fraud for selling a friend a fake diamond ring for $85,000.
Since the 1990s, working from Newcastle or Sydney, Page has promoted himself as a financial wheeler-dealer, but the Newcastle Herald revealed how dozens of Hunter people trusted him with their money and lost it in various scams.
Page's stings have dragged in doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, developers and business owners.
With debts of more than $17 million, the self-proclaimed "successful shares trader" signed a $180,000 personal insolvency agreement in November 2016 that saved him from bankruptcy.
Mr Baker, a former dot.com entrepreneur who was on the BRW Rich 200 list in 2001 with an estimated wealth of $130 million before being released from bankruptcy in 2017, and Page have been friends for 25 years.
Right now, there appears to be another brawl brewing between the two camps over $2.2 million being held by the NSW Supreme Court from the liquidation of a third property company linked to Page.
Parkway One Pty Ltd, controlled again by Ms Page, was placed in the hands of a liquidator last year and three Newcastle properties, including a Newcastle beach apartment, were sold for about $6 million.
Scott Pascoe, of liquidator PriceWaterHouseCoopers, said this week there was still about $200,000 owed to unsecured Parkway One creditors and CL Asset Holdings was claiming about $2 million.
"We are hopeful of being able to secure the funds to pay out the remaining unsecured creditors, but there will need to be a hearing held to determine exactly what happens," Mr Pascoe said.
"As things stand the money is held in the court."
Mr Baker was one of nine people to supply character references to Judge Julia Baly, SC, in the Sydney District Court in 2018 that were instrumental in helping her form the opinion that Page was of "good character" and selling a fake diamond ring to a close friend was "out of character".
Page used the glowing references to successfully appeal against a 12-month jail sentence and walk free.
Mr Baker's reference detailed how the pair met in 1996 and went on to become friends.
"During the 20 years that I have known and had business dealings with Lemuel Page, I have found him to be honest and reliable and have never had any reason to question his integrity or motives," Mr Baker wrote.
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- Former fraud squad detective on why Lemuel Page victims should speak out
"Mr Page has always fulfilled his 'end of the bargain' including contributing funds when necessary and undertaking tasks as committed and/or required.
"We worked together harmoniously leveraging our respective skills.
"Mr Page and I continue to work together on various investment projects, including exploring and assessing new opportunities as they may arise."
In another twist to the dispute, the company Mr Baker claims is owed almost $9 million, CL Asset Holdings, was started by Mr Baker and Page in 2003 to develop retirement villages in regional NSW.
It was originally called B&P Investments (NSW) Pty Ltd and Page was the founding director.
The development and lending firm is now run by Mr Baker and his sister Maria Comino. Mr Baker did not respond to a request for comment.
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