A Lake Illawarra police officer has fronted court accused of impersonating his best friend to cancel his mobile phone service and send distressing messages to loved ones after the breakdown of their friendship.
Lee Henry Paterson, a serving NSW police officer at Lake Illawarra, pleaded not guilty to nine charges related to using the personal information of Senior Constable Ashley Tecles to access his mobile phone and social media accounts when their relationship soured in 2017.
Paterson is also defending fraud and intimidation charges amid allegations he used Mr Tecles' Woolworths Everyday Rewards card account without permission and sent antagonistic messages to three women while pretending to be Mr Tecles.
During a hearing in Wollongong Local Court on Thursday, Mr Tecles told the court he and Paterson were like "brothers" after they started working together at Lake Illawarra police station in 2012.
Mr Tecles said Paterson was his "confidant" and "support" through his marriage breakdown and they socialised together outside of work "daily" and often went mountain bike riding.
However, the friendship deteriorated when Mr Tecles started dating a new partner in 2017. Eventually Mr Tecles stopped all contact with Patterson in May of that year.
Crown prosecutor Shaun Croner alleged Paterson used Mr Tecles' personal information to cancel the latter's mobile phone service on November 17, 2017.
It is also alleged Paterson was able to lock Mr Tecles out of his email and social media by trying to change the personal information in the accounts.
Mr Croner alleged once Paterson had access to the phone he sent messages - purporting to be from Mr Tecles - to his former friend's ex-wife threatening to strangle her.
He also sent an email to Mr Tecles' current partner detailing allegations of infidelity.
Additionally, Mr Croner also alleged Paterson used Mr Tecles' Woolworths Everyday Rewards account without his permission to get a discount on fuel on two occasions in 2018.
Mr Tecles told that court he found his mobile phone had stopped working on November 17, 2017.
After inquiring with his mobile service provider, Mr Tecles was told his account had been suspended during the night after someone had provided enough personal information to pass the security checks and asked for the mobile phone service to be cancelled.
Later that day, Mr Tecles service was again disconnected while he was speaking to the phone service company operator when, at the same time, someone else was also requesting the service be cut off.
The account was suspended and Mr Tecles said he had to go into a store to reactivate his service, and put additional security measures in place.
However on November 20, the account was closed for a third time and Mr Tecles found out someone had ported his number to a different provider. The Crown alleges Paterson was behind the switch.
"Obviously my security had been compromised. I was changing my email and passwords," Mr Tecles said.
"I completely lost control of all my emails....I completely lost control of my number."
Mr Tecles also said he no longer had access to his social media accounts, along with his email, as they were linked to his phone number which was used as a verification tool and he could no longer access his phone account.
Mr Tecles reported the alleged breaches to his supervisors at work, who filed a report and the matter was ultimately investigated by the Professional Standards Command.
Defence barrister Will Tuckey questioned Mr Tecles about his friendship with Paterson before going on to ask him what devices he had access to at Paterson's home and if he was given the WiFi password.
"Any access I would have had on his devices, would have been with him present," Mr Tecles said.
Fraud and intimidation charges
Mr Tecles also told the court on two occasions in early 2018 he noticed suspicious activity on his Woolworths Everyday Rewards card at stores in Cooma and Bomaderry.
Mr Tecles said he had sent Paterson a message in November telling him to not use the card or account.
Witnesses were called to give evidence amid allegations Paterson sent distressing messages to three women.
The partner of Mr Tecles' father, Michelle Carey told the court she was "quite devastated" when she read messages on November 20, 2017, sent from Mr Tecles' phone number, suggesting her partner was cheating on her.
Mr Tecles' ex-wife, Tracey Zahra who is also a Lake Illawarra police officer, gave evidence about a message sent to her on the same day, from Mr Tecles phone number.
It is alleged during the exchange that Paterson - purporting to be Mr Tecles - wrote a message threatening to "squeeze the life" from her.
Mr Tecles' current partner Renee McGuinn told the court she also received a text message allegedly from her partner's number asking for her to send an intimate photo, which she did not do, on November 20, 2017.
It was only upon talking to her partner later that she found out Mr Tecles had not sent the messages as he could not access his phone.
Ms McGuinn went on to say a few days later that she was sent an email, from an unknown address, that said words to the effect of "my partner was a liar, not to trust him and that he was having an affair with someone else"
She described feeling, "awful, terrible, very, very upset".
Paterson has been charged with two counts of unauthorised modification of data with intent to cause impairment; two counts of dealing with identity information to commit an indictable offence; two counts of dishonestly obtain financial advantage by deception; and three counts of intimidation intending to cause physical or mental harm.
The hearing continues on Thursday.
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