A man who led a group committed to creating what he described as the “ideal human environment” has been convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl at an Adelaide Hills mansion.

Key points:

  • James Salerno pleaded not guilty to eight counts of unlawful sexual intercourse
  • A jury found him guilty of six counts and not guilty of two
  • The trial heard Salerno was the “revered leader” of a cult based in the Adelaide Hills

James Gino Salerno, 74, pleaded not guilty to eight counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, after last year being granted a retrial, which occurred in the District Court.

The jury took four hours to find him guilty on six counts, and not guilty of two.

During the trial, prosecutor Patrick Hill told the jury that Salerno — who was the “revered leader” of the group — sexually abused the girl hundreds of times over a five-year period.

“Throughout the entire period [the alleged victim] and the accused lived together as part of a communal living arrangement with a number of other people,” Mr Hill told the court.

“[The group] appears to have been about pooling resources and pursuing business ventures … in pursuit of financial gains.

“One of [the] main aims has been the attainment of something he called the ‘ideal human environment’ – or the IHE – which purports to be something to do with people living together harmoniously and free of conflict.

Salerno, who was known as “Taipan” to his followers, denied ever being the leader of the group — repeatedly referred to as a “cult” during the original trial — and denied all of the sexual offending.

His bail has now been revoked, and he has been remanded in custody to face court for sentencing in November.

The court was told the group was based at a large property in the Adelaide Hills, in the former home of Alexander Downer, but also spent time interstate, including on El Questro Cattle station in northern Western Australia.

At the Aldgate property were two main buildings: A two-storey stone residence dubbed “the mansion”, where Salerno lived, and “the barracks”, which were a two-storey dormitory-style accommodation block.

The historic Albury Park mansion in the Adelaide Hills acted as the group’s base.(ABC News)

There was a two-way radio communication system between the two buildings.

The court heard the group’s members were ranked in an order of hierarchy, with the lower-ranked members forced to defer to the higher ranked.

“The accused was very particular about how he liked his bath prepared, right down to the water level, the water temperature and the addition of Epsom salts.”

Mr Hill said the offending began when Salerno summoned the victim to see him in his bedroom and later a room on the ground level of the barracks.

“It’s in this role of tending to the accused’s personal needs that on the prosecution case was later extended to engaging in sex with him.”

Salerno during an interview about his beliefs.(ABC News)

The court was told that Salerno did not do any paid work outside the group but that various members of the group had well-paid jobs.

“The group paid for his costs of living, including sending his children to private schools and to private university interstate in Queensland,” Mr Hill said.

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