The spicy case of the former MasterChef contestant who defeated a $7.6 million embezzlement claim

Former MasterChef Australia contestant Aaron Thomas has settled a proceeding which claimed he embezzled more than $US7 million ($7.6 million) from the company he founded.

Thomas, 26, appeared in the first season of MasterChef with his occupation listed as “student”.

After being eliminated from the reality television show Thomas went on to found mining company, Oakmont, in 2010 in the United Kingdom.

The company has mining interests in Brazil.

But Thomas was sacked from his role as chief executive of Oakmont earlier this year.

Oakmont launched legal proceedings in the New York Supreme Court claiming Thomas embezzled money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for himself and his fiancée, Thaiana Rodrigues.

Oakmont claimed Thomas spent company money on a Caribbean holiday, Greek holiday, luxury yacht and private jet charters, a $US171,000 Tiffany’s engagement ring for Rodrigues, luxury New York apartment and a $US53,000 holiday to Australia including first class airfares.

“Thomas used the company bank accounts as a personal piggy bank, withdrawing substantial sums of money and transferring them to his personal accounts and to family and friends,” the complaint filed with the court stated.

Oakmont also claimed Thomas “engaged in a campaign of deception” of Oakmont’s shareholders, directors, and employees to cover-up his wrong-doing.

This alleged campaign included filing inaccurate financial statements, creating false documents which purported to give board approval for spending and fabricating a backdated services contract that purported to award Thomas a “substantial salary”. 

But the complaint was “discontinued with prejudice” in July.

This means the claims against Thomas have been withdrawn and cannot be resurrected again.

Thomas’ lawyer, Rob Garson of GS2Law, told SmartCompany a confidential settlement has been reached and as part of this settlement Thomas no longer has his 25% shareholding in Oakmont.

Garson says at times the proceedings “read a bit like a Monty Python script” but he was pleased with the outcome.

“It’s a great move forward for a young man who is obviously deeply talented and knowledgeable in his area and hopefully he can move forward,” Garson says.

“It’s a clean break and hopefully the company can move on its direction and Aaron Thomas can move on as well. As my great grandmother used to say, let me remain in my house, you remain in yours and let God look over everyone.”

Garson says it is now “onwards and upwards” for Thomas who will look to build a new business within the mining and minerals arena.

He says it is unlikely Thomas will draw on his MasterChef expertise for his new business, “but you never know”.

Thomas was eliminated after losing a test to fellow contestants Sandra Morena and Julie Goodwin, who went on the win the show.

At the time, Thomas’s overconfidence was said to be his downfall, as he failed to taste the paella he was cooking and did not achieve the right balance of spices.


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