A man and woman living in Melbourne have been sentenced over a series of fraudulent COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (PLDP), totalling $54,000.
The Australian Federal Police, together with Services Australia, launched Operation IRIS REDWOOD in November 2020 after Services Australia identified a number of suspicious claims.
The AFP executed search warrants in the Melbourne suburb of Deer Park earlier this year (3 February 2021) and seized a range of items, including bank cards, bank statements and electronic material for evidentiary analysis.
On Thursday, 11 February 2021, authorities became aware that two persons-of-interest in the investigation had purchased airline tickets and were intending to leave the country on a flight from Melbourne to Dubai.
AFP officers subsequently arrested the pair at a residential property in Deer Park on 11 February 2021.
They appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, via video link from the Sunshine Police Station charged with one count each of General Dishonesty Causing a Loss contrary to section 135.1(5) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)
On 6 May 2021, the pair pleaded guilty to the charges.
They were granted strict conditional bail, which included the requirement to surrender their passports to police.
On 19 July 2021, the 27-year-old woman was sentenced to three months imprisonment and will be required to pay back $12,000 in reparations.
On 20 July 2021, the 25-year-old man was sentenced to six months imprisonment and will be required to pay back $42,000 in reparations.
The court heard the group dishonestly claimed Commonwealth Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments using multiple bank accounts, along with accounts allegedly belonging to other people who were aware of the fraud, in order to claim an estimated $54,000 dollars.
As part of the offending, the group organised 44 false and dishonest claims for support, in order to receive the pandemic payments, which are designed to assist people in isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The lump sum payment provided by Centrelink was created to help workers during their 14 day COVID-19 self-isolation period, if they were required to stay home from work by health officials and did not have access to sick-leave entitlements.
AFP Detective Acting Superintendent James Cheshire said the sentence was a warning to those seeking to exploit Australian taxpayers and steal from the Commonwealth and by extension steal from Australian Taxpayers.
“These payments were designed to assist people to isolate during a pandemic and in turn, protect our community,” Detective a/Supt Cheshire said.
“With so many Australians doing it tough – but doing the right thing – it is more important than ever that we seek out those who heap the burden of crime on the public.”
“Let this be a clear reminder to anyone seeking to illegally take advantage of the emergency support designed to keep all Australians safe – it will not be tolerated and you will be prosecuted.”
“The Australian Federal Police together with our partner agencies will continue to identify and target these fraudsters attempting to exploit our support networks and steal from taxpaying Australians.”
Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen said the sentence should serve as a warning to anyone looking to commit fraud.
“We take fraud extremely seriously and have a responsibility to stop people taking advantage of payments that support those who are genuinely in need during these tough times,” Mr Jongen said.
“Our strong relationship with our AFP partners means we’re able to quickly find, investigate and disrupt fraud.”
Anyone with information about suspected fraud of Government benefits can make a report via the “Reporting Fraud” page on the Services Australia website at servicesaustralia.gov.au/fraud, or by calling the Australian Government Services Fraud Tip-off Line on 13 15 24.