Two years in prison for tak­ing $49,000 in Cen­tre­link ben­e­fits

Central Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew Thorpe an­drew.thorpe@glad­sto­neob­server.com.au

THE man who came to Biloela late last year to turn around Bot­toms Night­club’s ‘dingy’ rep­u­ta­tion has been sen­tenced to two years’ im­pris­on­ment.

Justin Stevens faced Glad­stone Mag­is­trates Court on Tues­day for de­ceiv­ing the Com­mon­wealth of over $49,000 through Cen­tre­link pay­ments. The fraud oc­curred from 2010-2013.

Stevens came to Biloela around Au­gust last year as a co-man­ager of the Cal­lide St ho­tel only to have it closed months later in Jan­uary.

THE scam started off small – but by the time he was caught, the Biloela Ho­tel ex-man­ager had ripped off tax­pay­ers to the tune of $49,882.

Justin An­drew Stevens, 34, ap­peared in Glad­stone District Court on Mon­day charged with the fed­eral of­fence of ob­tain­ing fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage by de­cep­tion.

Stevens, who cur­rently works at the Cen­tral Lane Ho­tel, ad­dressed the court to plead guilty to the charge, then re­mained quiet and re­spect­ful for the rest of the pro­ceed­ings.

As a small group of tear­ful fam­ily and friends sat in the gallery, the court heard he had be­gun car­ing for his terminally-ill un­cle on the Gold Coast in 2008.

His role as a full-time carer meant he qual­i­fied for means-tested carer pay­ments and a carer’s al­lowance ben­e­fit from Cen­tre­link.

But when he started ca­sual work at the Ca­nun­gra Ho­tel in 2010, he chose not to re­port all of his in­come – the first step down a path which would later see him fac­ing a sub­stan­tial prison sen­tence.

Upon mov­ing to Rockhampton to work at the Capri­corn Ho­tel in 2012, Stevens failed to in­form Cen­tre­link he was no longer car­ing for his un­cle at all, but con­tin­ued to claim the al­lowance and pay­ments for 44 fort­nights.

The scam, de­scribed as “un­so­phis­ti­cated” by the pros­e­cu­tion, was first de­tected by the Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice in a data match­ing ex­er­cise in 2013.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened into his case, and Cen­tre­link raised the debt with him in Au­gust of that year, bring­ing the de­cep­tion to an end.

Over two years and eight months, he had earned a to­tal gross in­come of $107,466.25 from three em­ploy­ers, and only de­clared $2275.65 of that in­come to Cen­tre­link.

There is no sug­ges­tion any of his em­ploy­ers or work­mates, in­clud­ing at the Biloela Ho­tel, knew about Stevens’ ac­tions.

In sen­tenc­ing Stevens, Judge Michael Bur­nett said it was clear his con­duct had been de­lib­er­ate and per­sis­tent.

The scale of the dis­hon­esty plus the need to de­ter such be­hav­iour meant a harsh sen­tence was the only ap­pro­pri­ate op­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately some­times peo­ple take the view that the Com­mon­wealth is an easy touch,” he said.

“We now live in an age where govern­ments have bud­get deficits pro­jected into the fu­ture for­ever.

“The com­mu­nity ex­pects pu­n­ish­ment and thus... this war­rants a cus­to­dial sen­tence.”

How­ever, Judge Bur­nett ac­cepted the de­fence’s ar­gu­ment that Stevens had not been liv­ing a lav­ish life­style with the money and was us­ing it only for liv­ing ex­penses, in­clud­ing a pe­riod dur­ing the re­sources boom in Glad­stone when his rent was $580 a week.

He also ac­cepted Stevens rep­re­sented a good prospect of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion given his em­ploy­ment record around cen­tral Queens­land, in­clud­ing a brief pe­riod when he ob­tained a man­age­ment li­cence for the Biloela Ho­tel, and the trust shown in him by his cur­rent em­ployer at Glad­stone’s Cen­tral Lane Ho­tel.

He sen­tenced Stevens to two years in prison, with three months to be served be­fore pa­role, plus a four-year good be­hav­iour bond.

Stevens was led out of the court and into the Glad­stone watch house.

His friend and co-worker spoke in support of him out­side the court, say­ing he was an hon­est, self­less man who cared about peo­ple.

“Ev­ery­one around here knows... if you have a prob­lem, you go to Justin – he’ll sort it out,” she said.


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