Hefty fine, probation for couple who gambled away son’s €35,000 cancer donations

€50,000 in fines and three years’ probation for couple who gambled away €35,000 in donations collected for son’s cancer treatment

Ryan and Nicole Debattista were charged with money laundering after gambling away donations collected for their son
Ryan and Nicole Debattista were charged with money laundering after gambling away donations collected for their son

A couple from Mosta have been fined a total of €50,000 and placed on probation after they admitted to defrauding several people – including their own 7-year-old son – by having gambled away some €35,000 in donations they had received for his cancer treatment.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech found Ryan Debattista, 31, and Nicole Bezzina, 27, guilty of fraud and money laundering charges. Debattista alone was also convicted of handling stolen goods and breaching a probation order.

The couple had profited from the generosity shown by altruistic individuals and football clubs, owing to the personality of Debattista, a Floriana F.C. supporter, who had immediately started raising funds to allow the boy to receive treatment.

The court ordered Debattista to pay a €30,000 fine, imposing a separate €20,000 fine on the mother. The €35,000 that they had received in donations were confiscated by the court, together with all the movable and immovable property belonging to the guilty couple.

The magistrate was scathing in her condemnation of the couple’s actions. “Instead of appreciating these noble gestures, the couple had shamelessly, and after deceiving everyone, frittered away the fruits of their friends’ labours and those of the general public, to finance their gambling addiction, a vice which only caused them loss.”

Representatives of the cancer charity Puttinu Cares had testified that in spite of everything, the boy had received treatment and was well cared for by his parents. He had been cured of his cancer and was making continuous progress, the court was told.

The court told the guilty couple that from now onwards, they were expected to live an exemplary life while bringing up their son, and would have to be very careful not to have further run-ins with the law for the duration of the supervision order it imposed. 

Failure to do so, would force the court to punish them for the very serious charges of fraud which they had admitted guilt to.

The couple were sentenced to probation for 3 years, in view of the fact that this was a case of “self-laundering” where the fraudulent gains had subsequently been lost by the couple, meaning that there was no net gain from the money laundering. 

Inspector Karl Muscat prosecuted.

Lawyer Noel Bianco was defence counsel.