John Bigatton is a born salesman – he’s the Australian frontman for one of the biggest financial scams the world has ever seen, BitConnect. After its collapse, $4 billion vanished overnight, wiping out the savings of thousands of Australian mum and dad investors.
Sunday Night’s Matt Doran investigates John Biggaton’s shadowy role in the multi-billion dollar Bitconnect swindle, and explores a second and even more disturbing mystery – the suspicious disappearance of his wife Madeline.
John Bigatton was always looking to turn a quick buck. Over the years, he tried his hand at everything – selling vitamins, running a gym, trading foreign currencies – anything that promised a big return, and fast. He lived in an extravagant mansion in Sydney’s south with wife Madeline and their two young daughters.
Two years ago, John Bigatton chanced upon his next big thing – BitConnect, a shady company based in India selling cryptocurrency. It was at the height of the Bitcoin boom, and Bigatton was convinced he could make a fortune. He signed up to run their Australian operation and began working his contacts for investors.
Like so many other Australians, Dani and Steve Bow were bedazzled by the vast fortunes being made in the cryptocurrency boom of 2017. John Biggaton offered to get them in on the ground floor.
Steve remembers how enticing the offer from Biggaton was. “He’s telling us, ‘I’m making a lot of money. The people under me are making a lot of money, and you’ll be able to quit your jobs [and] able to do all kinds of things.’”
The promised profit is incredibly persuasive. Dani and Steve invested $130,000 into BitConnect. In the space of a year, their investment was estimated to grow to over $8 million.
Niall Coburn spent more than a decade as Senior Investigator for ASIC, Australia’s corporate watchdog. He has taken down dozens of financial scams, just like BitConnect. To him, those figures were the biggest red flag. “Immediately in my mind, I knew it was a scam. They were offering 1% a day. That’s 365% a year. There is no investment I know in the world that offers that return.”
“In my experience, the promoters of these schemes know what they’re doing, without a doubt. They know that investors will not be receiving their funds back, they know that those returns are unsustainable, and that the whole scheme was a lie.”
But it was the promise of those eye-watering returns that led first-time investors Hilton and Talia Robinson to sign up with BitConnect. “I went on YouTube and saw other people in the same position just making money,” Talia explains. “Buying cars, living the dream, having a free income. But we wanted to buy a house, not a Lamborghini.”
The house would be for their growing family. The couple had just had their first child.
Talia was initially cautious. But Hilton had no such reservations. He poured their life savings into the scheme – much more than his wife knew about.
“I started putting my whole wage in there,” Hilton reveals.
“Which he didn’t tell me,” says Talia. ‘He didn’t tell me he was putting his whole wage in every week. I didn’t know that.”
Then on January 17 last year, Bitconnect suddenly stopped trading. Millions of investors lost everything.
“I just was like, ‘What have I done?’” remembers Hilton. “’Now I have a child, and what’s our future going to be like?’ It hurt because I felt like I failed as a husband as a provider, and as a dad.”
Talia was equally as concerned. “I was really thinking, ‘What have I done for my future with this decision or with this man? Why would you trust them and listen to them and not me?’”
[Biggaton Part 2 video]
Ever since the collapse of BitConnect, John Biggaton has refused to speak to any of his investors – even those who counted him as a friend.
Dani and Steve became close with John, even having regular dinners with him, but he vanished after BitConnect collapsed. “We didn’t get a, ‘Sorry guys,’ or ‘God, you must be feeling awful,’ or, ‘I feel for you,’ or anything like that,” Dani recalls. “Not even a phone call, not even a text. A text I can live with, a phone call, nothing.”
It’s here that the story of the Australian connection to this multi-billion dollar global scam takes a really dark turn. Almost a year ago, John Bigatton’s wife Madeline went missing.
At around 11:30 on the morning she vanished, Madeline Bigatton got into her car with a beach bag. With her was her youngest daughter, who she dropped off at a friend’s house. Some hours later, she sent a message to John reminding him to feed their dog.
Madeline didn’t return home that night. Her car was found in the parking lot at the Kurnell cliffs. Her wedding ring was left inside, and her keys tossed a few metres away.
Even now, the family is divided. Could Madeline still be alive? Or was this something more sinister?
Madeline’s family isn’t convinced it was suicide. Madeline was a survivor – she’d beaten breast cancer twice.
Madeline’s cousin, Sonia Vuchich, says there are other reasons suicide doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility. “She was a devout Catholic, so that puts doubt in my mind. Her religion was very important to her, as were her children, so that’s the part that I’m struggling with the most. I can’t understand how she could do that – that her kids would suffer, and she’s going against everything she believed in.”
Just days after Madeline’s disappearance, John Bigatton posted a cheery selfie to Facebook. He seemed to be getting on with life, even while telling friends his wife probably committed suicide.
“He looks pretty happy for someone who’s lost a doting wife of 20 years,” Dani Bow observes. “They were together since university days.”
“If you’d just lost your wife in such an horrific fashion basically on the back of something you’d caused, which with BitConnect was the cause of it, he looks pretty happy he’s caused her demise.”
Some of the many investors duped by John Bigatton believe Madeline staged her disappearance. This wasn’t a suicide – it was a money grab.
“It just seemed to me that it would be a good, convenient story,” Dani says. “To be able to get the money out, his wife out of the country – sinister as it sounds, that’s where my head went I didn’t believe it for one second.”
It’s a year since Madeline Bigatton disappeared, and John Bigatton has scarcely skipped a beat. He’s still living in the family home where he’s raising the couple’s two daughters. He’s even working for a small finance company called Wealth Synergy.
John Bigatton refused to be interviewed by Sunday Night, and while he may not answer our questions, he will have to answer ASIC’s. Australia’s corporate watchdog is investigating the company’s collapse and all those missing billions.
The issue is that cryptocurrency is very hard to trace. “No one knows where it has gone,” explains Niall Coburn. “There are investigations under foot in the UK, the U.S. [and] Australia. There’s no way we can yet really understand where that money has gone, except that once it does go, in my experience, it’s funneled through offshore jurisdictions. It’s very hard then to on-trace those accounts. Realistically, it’s unlikely that any investors will ever see their funds again.”
Reporter: Matt Doran
Producers: Stefan Mitchell