'I can actually hear my wife sobbing': Peel residents face court to get their life savings back

It was May 2019 that about 60 Mandurah residents claim they lost their life savings when property management group, Sterling First went into administration leaving a $20 million debt.

Over a year on, more than 100 pensioners and people reaching retirement age around Australia are still searching for answers with many now fronting court in an effort get their money back.

Eric and Denise Colletti are just two of the many Peel residents, who are now in an ongoing court case after losing $197,000 buying a Sterling First lifetime lease package, which was supposed to allow them to rent a home for a certain amount of time, as an alternative to buying a home.

The money the Collettis and many other residents paid upfront was supposed to go into a trust fund, which would then be paid directly to the landlord but the landlords say they suddenly stopped receiving their money.

"We just got a phone call one night from the landlord saying they hadn't received our money," Denise said.

Sterling First has not responded to questions from the Mandurah Mail.

The couple said the stress of losing their life savings and the thought of going to court had impacted their mental health.

Dudley Park residents Eric and Denise Colletti are now in an ongoing court case to try and get their life savings back. Photo: Claire Sadler.

Dudley Park residents Eric and Denise Colletti are now in an ongoing court case to try and get their life savings back. Photo: Claire Sadler.

"I've been on anti-depressants and I've been on sleepers because I go to bed at night and it's in the back of my mind, I wake up in the morning and it starts up all over again," Eric said.

"Denise and I have been together for 40 years and we've never argued so much.

"The bit that hurts me the most..."

Grabbing a tissue, Eric begins to sob.

"When we go to bed at night and I have to get up to go the bathroom I can actually hear my wife sobbing," he said with tears still running down his cheek.

"Now you have me crying," Denise says as she wipes at her face with a tissue.

Residents protested outside the Mandurah courthouse again last week in a bid to get their hundreds of thousands of dollars returned.

Scenes outside the Mandurah Courthouse were just as emotional on Wednesday as dozens of residents called for answers from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as they waited patiently for the Collettis to have their hearing.

ASIC has been investigating Sterling First since 2017 after Consumer Protection reported concerns regarding the investment scheme the previous year, but residents say they haven't seen enough action from the commission.

Dudley Park resident Roy Page, who says he has lost $202,000 to the failed property management group, said not enough had been done to resolve his and other residents' plights.

"Nothing has been done and this has been going on for 15 months," he said.

"ASIC is a government body that is supposed to and meant to protect and they haven't done their job."

As I listen to Roy and many other residents' emotional stories about losing their livelihoods and how the situation had impacted their mental health, Eric and Denise walk out of the courthouse doors.

Eric and Denise Colletti were supported by other Sterling First tenants and investors as they exited the Mandurah Courthouse on Wednesday. Photo: Claire Sadler.

Eric and Denise Colletti were supported by other Sterling First tenants and investors as they exited the Mandurah Courthouse on Wednesday. Photo: Claire Sadler.

They are instantly surrounded by others who say they have lost money in their Sterling First investment. One of the women hugs Denise as others put their hands on the couple's shoulders.

"I've never been through something like this ever in my life," Denise said.

"I had a brain tumour removed six years ago and even when I had that surgery I didn't know whether I was going to live or die. I wasn't scared then but I am now."

With their case adjourned, Eric and Denise are set to face the Mandurah Court again on August 19 while other couples have hearings in the WA Supreme Court later this year.

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Consumer Protection commissioner Lanie Chopping said the department didn't have jurisdiction on the Sterling First situation, however they had become involved in June last year to coordinate support for impacted residents.

Consumer Protection has provided $195,000 to Tenancy WA to provide legal advice and help tenant investors.

"Consumer Protection has connected a number of the impacted people to Tenancy WA and other pro bono legal firms for legal advice and advocacy actions," Ms Chopping said.

"Consumer Protection also coordinated with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) for claims to be made by the victims for compensation for the loss of their investment moneys."

Ms Chopping encouraged impacted parties to stay aware of developments via the ASIC web page and to use the services available from Tenancy WA, Law Access, the Department of Communities and AFCA.