A man and woman living in Melbourne have been sentenced to prison over a series of fraudulent COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (PLDP), totalling $54,000.
The 27-year-old woman was sentenced to three months imprisonment and will be required to pay back $12,000 in reparations, and the 25-year-old man was sentenced to six months imprisonment and will be required to pay back $42,000 in reparations.
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 and seized a range of items, including bank cards, bank statements and electronic material.
In February this year the authorities were alerted to the fact that the couple had purchased airline tickets and were intending to leave the country on a flight from Melbourne to Dubai.
The AFP went to the couple’s home in Deer Park and arrested them before they were able to flee the country.
They appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, via video link from the Sunshine Police Station charged and the pair pleaded guilty.
The court heard the pair 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.
The group had organised 44 false and dishonest claims for support in order to get the payments which are meant to help those who are in isolation.
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,” 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.”
Cheshire said this should serve as a clear reminder to anyone seeking to illegally take advantage of the emergency support designed to keep Australians safe.
“It will not be tolerated and you will be prosecuted,” he said.
“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,” Jongen said.
“Our strong relationship with our AFP partners means we’re able to quickly find, investigate and disrupt fraud.”