A cocky radio DJ-turned-conman from the South Coast has gone to ground a few days shy of his 21st birthday, after his latest scam left small businesses and young DJs thousands of dollars out of pocket.
“Dirty Harry" O’Connor, whose real name is believed to be Dene Broadbelt, has incurred debts of more than $120,000 in the past 18 months across Australia by smooth-talking victims then obtaining goods and services with faked credit references and payment receipts.
A “Dene Broadbelt Support Group” has even been set up on Facebook where its 104 members discuss his scams and share his photo. His trail of victims stretches from Ulladulla to Perth, Brisbane to Darwin, and Goulburn to Adelaide.
Broadbelt, who has also used aliases Dene Broadbent, Dean Mussillon, Nic Lloyd and Clay O’Connor, sets up elaborate deceits and convinces businesses to provide cars, rooms and equipment. He has claimed to be filming a charity cancer walk for Channel Seven in the outback, a music promoter touring a national festival and a big city DJ talent agency chief. When confronted by angry sceptics, Broadbelt disappears leaving a pile of unpaid bills.
Broadbelt recently recruited 11 teenage DJs from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane over the internet to his "Paramount Agency & Touring" company, based near Circular Quay. He then invited six to a photo shoot in Wollongong on July 1.
A major hotel was left with a bill of nearly $4000 after Broadbelt arranged accommodation, drinks and meals for eight people then failed to pay the bill. Bass Limousines, run by Tarik Hadaya, alleged it was owed $7000 for driving “O’Connor” and his DJs and entourage around the Illawarra on a 13-hour shoot. A photographer, make-up artist and stylist remain unpaid, as does a recording studio Broadbelt booked.
The Paramount agency collapsed six days ago after its talent manager , Emma Grace, 25, was told "Harry" was selling turntables to his own artists through Facebook but not delivering on payment.
Ms Grace warned the musicians then contacted police. "Harry" then sent her an SMS saying he planned to work from home and hasn't been in contact. Paramount's website and Facebook page have been deleted and his phone disconnected.
Fairfax has tried to contact Broadbelt but his phone is disconnected and he has not replied to emails.
"We really can't tell how many people he stuffed over," said one of the DJs, James Kittelty, 19, from Melbourne.
Last December, Broadbelt phoned Darwin-based high-end audio visual company Dreamedia in a panic, convincing staff to freight $150,000 worth of professional equipment to Alice Springs so his company, Coleman Studios, could film Jimmy Harrington’s brain and spinal cancer fundraising walk . “He led us to believe he was working with Channel Seven on a shoot and his cameras had gone back to Sydney," said Dreamedia owner Chris O'Brien.
“In our world, we generally don’t think people are crooks. In the outback ... you help out because people get stuck with freight problems.
“I paid for [the freight] on my credit card because his accounts payable department was uncontactable at that hour.”
The camera equipment was returned anonymously, although Dreamedia remains $25,756 out of pocket for hire fees. Mr O'Brien reported the incident to Northern Territory Police, which confirmed to Fairfax they are aware of the case but it is being investigated by NT Consumer Affairs.
Warren Day of Sydney company VA Digital Hire has a similar story. He was left with more than $25,000 of unpaid bills for hire and recovery of professional filming gear.
One of the most serious allegations is that Broadbelt profited from ticket sales for the “Infinity Music Festival”, claimed to be planned in Darwin and several regional NSW towns, but never held.
Scott Richardson of Ulladulla Web Design created Infinity Music Festival posters for Broadbelt and is owed "around $1500". He thinks Broadbelt is a “good natured but troubled kid" and "needs to be stopped”.
"He's not making a lot of money, just trying to live out this persona and lifestyle he wishes he had. He reminds me of the guy from the film Catch Me if You Can on a smaller scale. "
It has also been alleged Broadbelt rebranded two hire cars for the trip to Perth (signwritten "Coleman Studios"), then failed to return a third. Fairfax has seen his driver's licence showing his date of birth as July 29, 1993, with a residential address near Batemans Bay.
After confronting Broadbelt over the unpaid $2500 bill for a television commercial (for "Aquaholic Photography"), Skip Films' Noel Sadler received threatening phone messages: "It was disturbing. I have young children and if someone did something stupid I've got to try and protect my family.
"This will to get to a point where people get hurt. By the time he's 25, he'll be in prison for a long time or he'll be dead."
Broadbelt is also alleged to have fled Eagle FM radio station in Goulburn in April 2013 after ordering $18,500 worth of equipment for a music festival. Radio Goulburn's Gail Gowdern says Broadbelt was the station's "talented" breakfast DJ and "cannot fathom his behaviour".
"I just want him to stop. He was a braggart and full of himself but in a way that people would be sucked in by him. I am an intelligent woman and he sucked me in."
Although multiple people we spoke to claim to have reported incidents to police, a spokesperson for NSW Police said no one going by the above names was "the subject of an active investigation in NSW".