A couple from Mosta has admitted gambling away €35,000 in funds raised to help their son fight cancer. 

Ryan Debattista, 31, and Nicole Bezzina, 27, pleaded guilty to defrauding their son and other people who gave them money for his treatment. They also admitted to money laundering. 

Debattista was fined €30,000 and Bezzina was fined €20,000 and all of their immovable and moveable property was confiscated. 

Times of Malta first revealed last year that the couple was under investigation for misusing the funds meant for the treatment of their sick child. 

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said the couple had exploited the generosity of all those who took pity and showed boundless altruism towards them.

She said they had used funds earned through the hard work of friends and the public to finance their gambling addiction, which brought them nothing but loss.

Rather than appreciate the gestures of generosity, the couple "shamelessly" wasted those monies after "deceiving everyone".

The amount defrauded was €35,000 and that was the sum which the accused had 'self laundered', losing everything they had gained. 

Both Debattista and Bezzina were also placed under probation for three years and given a treatment order to help them overcome their gambling addiction.

A significant portion of the funds they defrauded came from Malta's footballing community, which banded together to drum up funds to help the couple and their child. 

Spearheaded by Floriana FC, supporters of around a dozen clubs raised money which was then matched by their respective clubs. The Malta Football Association also donated a euro from every ticket sold during a football weekend in October 2018 to the cause. 

Child 'well taken care of'

Delivering her sentence, the magistrate took into account testimony from a Puttinu Cares representative, who said the child has since recovered from the disease and is being well taken care of by his parents.

They behaved in an exemplary manner as far as the child's medical treatment was concerned. 

From now on, the couple were to live as exemplary parents, urged the court, ensuring that they have no other brush with the law whilst under court-imposed supervision.

They were barred from going to betting parlours, or horse racing or online betting. When meting out punishment, the court took note of the mother's untainted record. 

The father had quite a "colourful record", the court said, without detailing his previous convictions.  He has been sent before the court of criminal appeal that had placed him under probation previously. 

An original ban against reporting the names of the parents was revoked by the court.  

Lawyer Noel Bianco was defence counsel.

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