The trip of a lifetime has come to a crashing halt for a criminal who stole the identity of a man in South Australia, in an attempt to escape authorities and flee to the Northern Territory.
- Travis Whyte pleaded guilty to eight fraud-related offenses in April
- He stole around $25,000 from a South Australian man, after stealing his identity
- In a letter to a friend, Whyte described his offending as the ‘best two weeks of his life’
Travis Whyte, while on bail for offenses allegedly committed in South Australia, assumed the identity of another man, after coming into possession of his wallet in Whyalla in September 2021.
Over the next two weeks, Whyte made his way to Darwin using the stolen bank cards, stealing fuel and twice evading police along the way.
He was eventually arrested in Darwin, attempting to purchase a $70,000 car.
In a letter Whyte wrote to a friend from prison in January this year, released by the court, he described his crimes as “the best 20 days of [his] life”.
“Darwin, first three days and I blew through my cash!!” Whyte wrote.
“Everyone thinks I’m [this] other bloke… his bank gave me full access to his 200k!! So I’m up on $180k fraud charges and looking at 2.5 years … I had the best 20 days of my life bro!! I can die a happy man!!”
“Spending somebody else’s money, buying cars to avoid detection, visiting a number of landmark sites in the NT [such as] the Devil’s Marbles, really enjoying himself in the course of this spree,” said Crown Prosecutor Tami Grealy.
“He continued until he was caught.”
A man who will “say anything to anyone to get what he wants”, according to Ms Grealy, Whyte withdrew close to $25,000 from the man’s accounts and was able to receive checks totaling $81,848 from the man’s bank by impersonating him.
He pleaded guilty to eight offences, including five charges of obtaining benefit by deception.
The ‘best two weeks’
According to a statement of facts tendered to the Northern Territory Supreme Court, Whyte stopped at various roadhouses and hotels along the Stuart Highway as he made his way from Whyalla to Darwin.
On two occasions, he stole fuel from remote petrol stations and was eventually met by police in Katherine for failing to pay.
“The offender informed police his name was [the victim’s] and produced [his] license as identification,” the facts read.
“The offender indicated he panicked and left [the petrol station] but had been feeling guilty all day. He told police he would call his mother to get some money, then he would return to Mataranka and pay for the fuel.”
Whyte never returned to pay.
He was again picked up by police in Darwin city after he was seen mounting a curb in his car around 3am on September 25 last year.
Police confiscated the stolen driver’s license from Whyte, after he tried to convince them he had “lost 20 kilograms” and that was why the picture didn’t look like him.
Whyte later managed to obtain a digital version of the victim’s license.
Ultimately, the 36-year-old’s great undoing was an attempt to use the stolen identity and money to purchase a car at Hidden Valley Ford in Darwin’s outer suburbs.
Dealership staff also queried why Whyte didn’t look like the picture in his stolen driver’s license, but according to the statement of facts, he told them he “had lost about 50 kilograms”.
After attending multiple banks in order to secure the money to buy a car, Whyte was met by plain-clothed police at Hidden Valley Ford after dealership staff tipped them off.
Upon his arrest, Whyte told officers he “didn’t feel like he was hurting anyone” and asked police “what had brought him unstuck.”
‘Literally no concern’, prosecutors say
In arguing for Whyte to be jailed with a non-parole period, Ms Grealy argued the letter he wrote to a friend showed “literally no concern” for anyone else.
“A man with his criminal history, who’s committed offenses of dishonesty for years… it is nonsense, in my submission, that only now… does he understand his offending touches the lives of anyone,” Ms Grealy said.
“This really is offending where he has gone to a lot of trouble to avoid detection … obviously, all signs point to somebody who was on the run, not looking to be located in the Northern Territory.”
In his letter to a friend, Whyte wrote he had been “running amok” and “done all the touristy things.”
“Devil’s Marbles, eight different springs, three waterfalls, one national park and then I made it to Darwin,” Whyte wrote.
Mr Whyte’s defense lawyer told the court prosecutors had “cherrypicked” aspects of the letter and the “best 20 days of [his] life” was not necessarily due to “ripping people off”.
“The fact that some of the money he used was not his own does not mean it is the best part of his experience,” Giles O’Brien Hartcher said.
“The territory’s a beautiful place, we all want to do that. It’s not inconceivable that it would have been a fantastic time. The road trip up the Stuart Highway is a fantastic experience.”
Mr O’Brien Hartcher conceded his client was not a “fully reformed human being” but argued he should still be afforded future opportunities for rehabilitation.
“The benefit Mr Whyte enjoyed was objectively small,” Mr O’Brien Hartcher said.
Justice Jenny Blokland will hand down Whyte’s sentence on September 1.