Fake charity scammer Christopher Ellingburg's jail sentence reduced on appeal

Christopher Ellingburg has had his jail term for collecting donations for a fake charity reduced on appeal. Picture: DARREN HOWE
Christopher Ellingburg has had his jail term for collecting donations for a fake charity reduced on appeal. Picture: DARREN HOWE

A man who pleaded guilty to running a fake charity that claimed to collect donations for terminally ill children has had his jail sentence significantly reduced on appeal.

Christopher William Ellingburg, 51, was sentenced in the Bendigo Magistrates' Court in March to 21 months' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 12 months, after pleading guilty to charges of obtain financial advantage by deception, theft and criminal damage.

Between October 2013 and October 2016, Ellingburg collected $41,000 in donations in the name of his purported charity, Grace Christian Centres of Australia, while falsely representing himself as a pastor.

Ellingburg also promised to support the family of a child with the terminal illness Batten disease, but the family only received about $800.

Police identified only $50 of the withdrawals from Ellingburg's bank accounts was paid to terminally ill children or something of a similar nature.

In sentencing Ellingburg in March, magistrate Sarah Leighfield noted his "very serious" criminal history, including numerous deception offences.

Among his prior offences were multiple counts of theft from a charity in Bendigo in 1992.

But County Court judge Mark Dean set aside Ms Leighfield's decision and resentenced Ellingburg to a total sentence of six months' imprisonment.

Upon his release Ellingburg will enter an undertaking to be of good behaviour for three years on paying a $500 security.

Ellingburg was also ordered to compensation of $8560 to the victim of the criminal damage offence, who was the owner of a Kennington home he rented.

Ellingburg's appeal to the County Court was based on his poor physical health.

His lawyer Peter Gordon also submitted that complex physical and mental health issues would make prison more burdensome for Ellingburg than for the average prisoner.

Mr Gordon said Ellingburg was morbidly obese, had to use a wheelchair, suffered illnesses that included type two diabetes and heart disease, and was believed to have experienced two strokes.

He needed a carer for basic daily activities, Mr Gordon said, and was on a large number of prescription medications.

"There is authority for the proposition that physical illness is a relevant mitigating factor in sentence where imprisonment will be a greater burden on the offender than would otherwise be the case, absent the physical illness," Mr Gordon said, citing previous court cases.

It was submitted he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and narcissistic personality disorder, and a psychologist recently found there was "imminent risk of suicide or self-harm".

Mr Gordon also said Ellingburg's difficult upbringing was relevant.

If not for Ellingburg's guilty pleas, Judge Dean would have sentenced him to 12 months' imprisonment.

This story Charity scammer's sentence cut on appeal first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.