News Corp journalist Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield received payments from controversial gambler Eddie Hayson
Nick McKenzie Kate McClymont
One of News Corp’s best-known sports reporters has received payments from Eddie Hayson, the controversial gambler alleged to be at the centre of some of the most sensational betting scandals in rugby league and racing.
The multiple cash deposits into the TAB account of Phil “Buzz” Rothfield, the sports editor-at-large at the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, are just some of Mr Hayson’s unusual financial transactions that are being scrutinised by authorities.
Text messages obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that Mr Hayson has used his friendship with Rothfield to threaten those chasing him for money.
In a text message sent in July last year, Mr Hayson gave one person three days to withdraw demands for repayment “or there is a picture of you going in the paper … Rothfield will love it”.
It is not suggested that Rothfield was aware of these threats or has had any involvement in the activities which have seen Mr Hayson investigated by police over the last decade.
In 2014, Mr Hayson lost control of Sydney’s most notorious brothel, Stiletto, and declared himself insolvent with debts of $52 million. He currently owes millions of dollars to a raft of characters including drug dealers, footballers, jockeys, boxers, family, friends and a convicted murderer.
The veteran journalist said he had never done any favours for Mr Hayson or allowed their dealings to influence his reporting. “I can’t protect Eddie and I wouldn’t,” he said.
However, Rothfield has written numerous favourable accounts of the exploits of Mr Hayson, who has a string of underworld contacts and questionable dealings – while at the same time accepting betting winnings from him.
When Mr Hayson received a six-month ban from racetracks over his role in the 2013 More Joyous affair, Rothfield came to his defence, claiming Mr Hayson had done nothing “but getting a tip that More Joyous was crook before a Group 1 race”.
A stewards’ inquiry heard that Mr Hayson’s mate, former football great Andrew Johns, tipped off Mr Hayson that John Singleton’s mare More Joyous was “off”.
Johns told Mr Hayson the information came from Tom Waterhouse, the son of the horse’s trainer, Gai. All were cleared of wrongdoing except for Mr Hayson, who was banned from racetracks for six months.
In June, when allegations surfaced that Mr Hayson was embroiled in a NSW police investigation into allegations of match-fixing over a 2015 match between South Sydney Rabbitohs and Manly Sea Eagles, Rothfield published an “exclusive” quoting Mr Hayson saying the match-fixing allegations were “the figment of someone’s imagination”.
Mr Hayson said in the article he couldn’t remember what he had done on that occasion as “I have a lot of bets on sport every weekend”.
But Rothfield did not reveal to his readers or editors the extent of his own betting forays with Mr Hayson.
Rothfield told Fairfax Media there was nothing untoward about the pair’s dealings. “I’ve known him for 10 years and we are mates, and mates always have a punt together.”
He gave Mr Hayson tips and Mr Hayson would bet for or with him, sometimes covering the bet, Rothfield said.
Asked how much he had received from Mr Hayson, Rothfield said: “I honestly don’t know how much it is. I’d be stunned if it was more than two or two and a half grand.”
Fairfax Media can reveal that Mr Hayson’s most recent payment into Rothfield’s betting account occurred in December last year and involved a cash deposit of $2000.
According to TAB regulations, only the named account holder can operate their TAB account. When questioned as to why he allowed Mr Hayson to make cash payments into his betting account, Rothfield replied: “It’s just like a bank account. There is no money laundering.”
The journalist also revealed that Mr Hayson had been a great contact who had given him some of his best stories over the years and that he had given the underworld figure tickets to the NRL “three or four times.”
“I get tickets for all my contacts,” Rothfield said.
The journalist later claimed that he had paid for the tickets to events such as the NRL grand final and that Mr Hayson had reimbursed him.
The Daily Telegraph reporter, who has been a journalist for more than 40 years, claimed there was no reason to disclose his financial dealings with Mr Hayson to his editors.
“Mates punt together and get tickets for each other,” he said.
According to News Corp’s code of ethics: “Failure to notify the editor and managing editor of any real or potential conflict of interest may result in dismissal.”
The code of ethics also states the “rewards or compensation” for information “must not be given without the group editorial director’s approval.”
A spokesman for the media group said: “News Corp is making a full inquiry into the matters you raise.”
Hayson’s sources of income are of great interest to law enforcement authorities. Despite his parlous financial position, NSW racing sources and figures close to Mr Hayson said he regularly deposits funds or places bets in the gambling accounts of his associates, including prominent NRL and racing identities.
Former race caller Mark Shean is another to have received cash payments in his TAB account from Mr Hayson. “Eddie text [sic] me for some tips and a few won and he said I will put some money in your tab account I honestly didn’t think anything of it at that time,” he said in a text message to Fairfax Media.
It is understood Mr Hayson’s payments into the TAB accounts of associates occurred prior to February this year when he was banned from using TAB facilities, having previously been banned for life from Sydney’s Star Casino.
According to internal TAB documents sent to betting outlets in February, TAB staff were instructed to “no longer serve Edward (Eddie) Hayson … due to suspicious money laundering activity”.
The document advised staff to contact head office if Mr Hayson “attempts to take part in any TAB transactions in your venue”.
The NSW organised crime squad is examining betting data in an attempt to confirm unproven allegations, denied by Mr Hayson, that he has used improperly obtained inside information, or engaged in match or race fixing, to increase his betting odds.
Some of Mr Hayson’s most successful betting plunges were derived from inside information.
In 2006, Mr Hayson’s friendship with Newcastle Knights star Andrew Johns brought a storm of publicity about Mr Hayson using inside information on Johns’ injury to win an estimated $2 million on a betting plunge that the Newcastle Knights would lose their match against the lowly-placed Warriors.
Police and gaming authorities are also examining why Mr Hayson frequently uses online and telephone gambling accounts belonging to other people to make payments or bet.
The practice makes it difficult for authorities to trace the origin of funds and who is behind a particular bet.
Comment was sought from Mr Hayson.