More than 20 people have been in touch with The Spinoff accusing Dommy Topia of fraudulent behaviour. And now it’s been revealed that Topia has been known to police for years.
Dominic (Dommy) Topia – the man who's been accused of swindling thousands of dollars from dozens of individuals around New Zealand – has been on the police radar for alleged fraudulent behaviour for more than three years.
Since The Spinoff's first story about Topia was published earlier this month, at least 24 people have been in touch with us to accuse him of using stories of terminal illness and family death to emotionally manipulate them into handing over cash.
One woman, who has requested anonymity, says she first reported Topia, dubbed the "Insta-scammer", to the police in 2015. Topia was her son's basketball coach at an Auckland boys' secondary school and he wanted to meet her and her husband to discuss extra coaching sessions for their son.
"He first wanted to meet my husband out at the pub for a drink but my husband didn’t feel comfortable doing that as he didn't really know him," the woman recalls. "So he suggested he come over to our house instead for a casual dinner and a chat. He talked about our son and how he wanted to progress his basketball [skills] with him. He talked about how he was a good kid and how we'd done a great job raising him."
When they asked Topia to tell them about himself, he said he was involved in charity work, spending time with children at Starship Hospital. He said he was helping to raise money for Starship by writing a series of children’s books (Starship has confirmed this is false).
"We thought he was great. He coached school basketball, did extra work with the kids, spent time doing charity work, and was dealing with a brain tumour," she says. "This is how he draws you in. We're quite clued in people – we’re not stupid – but we really thought he was being genuine."
She says that when it was time for Topia to leave, he asked if her husband could drop him off in Ponsonby as he’d forgotten his wallet. On the way there, Topia asked her husband if he could borrow some money for the night and that he would pay him back the next day at his son’s training session. He ended up giving him $360.
Topia, however, failed to turn up to training the next day and continued to provide excuses for not paying them back. That same week, he approached the couple about the possibility of sponsoring his series of children’s books. "That was when we realised something wasn't right."
"I contacted the police and they got me to write down a statement, I gave them all the information they needed and they opened a case file for it. The police said he was a known name to them but they wouldn't tell me what for. They also asked me if we were prepared to go to court to testify and I said that was something we’d have to think about because… we've got our children to think about. He knows where we live."
"[When the police] didn't come back to me, I followed up with them and they said they'd been in contact with him at his home but he wasn't there. They said they'd come back to me again but they never did. So I followed up with them instead and they said they were trying their best, but that it was a low priority for them given what they do work on. I kept following up on it but it didn't get any traction. Then I just didn’t get time and that was where I left it with the police."
"That was three years ago. So if they actually had done what they should have done, he probably would’ve gone through the system and these things potentially wouldn’t have occurred."
Another source has also got in touch to back up these claims, stating that Topia introduced himself to the school as an experienced sports coach who had previously worked at Nelson College for Girls. In a Nelson Mail article published in 2012, it says that Topia was held in "high regard" by the families of the students he had mentored (Nelson College for Girls has been contacted for comment but has yet to respond).
The source adds that he was fired from his coaching role at the Auckland school after just three months for getting involved in a car crash where he allegedly lost $500 worth of basketball fees that were in the glove box of his car. He also went about carefully targeting several other parents of students for cash.
"He was very good at sussing out who the more wealthy families were… and most of them were so embarrassed when they realised they'd been conned. He made sure he didn't hit up two parents whose sons were on the same team. He seemed to spread his 'cons' around different age groups and teams so that no one would end up talking to each other."
"He turned up again last year at a private Auckland girls' school offering to help coach. Fortunately, he was spotted by someone I know. The head of basketball at this school contacted me and I told him our story. He was asked to leave pretty quickly."
The Spinoff understands that Topia has also been reported to the police more recently. One man, who has asked to remain anonymous, says he went to the police earlier this month following The Spinoff's first story about Topia's fake documentary project, The 21 NZ, was published on May 3. He says he lent Topia $1,250 more than a year ago and has yet to be paid back. He says his experience with the police so far has been "absolutely useless".
"They said they already had a case open on him… but with inquiries like this, they needed more individuals to come forward and give formal statements," he says.
"Obviously, the more that go forward the better. I've contacted a whole lot of other victims on Instagram and told them that that all you need to do is go into a police station and fill out an informant/victim's statement. But even I haven't even done that yet because I'm still waiting on answers from them. They were useless when I turned up [at the police station]. I emailed them [on May 17] and they still haven't got back to me (the source has now said the police has since responded)."
When asked for a response, a police spokesperson told The Spinoff that "in general, police are not able to respond to queries which seek to establish whether an individual is, or has been, under police investigation. Additionally, anyone who makes a complaint to police has the right to privacy.
"Police takes all reports seriously and will investigate as appropriate. We encourage anyone who has concerns about how we have dealt with a case to contact us and express these views. We also encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim of crime to contact Police and file a complaint."
Topia has been approached for comment by The Spinoff several times on Facebook, email, and mobile, but has not responded.
Jihee Junn is a writer for The Spinoff