A FRAUDULENT claim for $10,000 from the government's bushfire relief fund was an appalling breach of trust motivated by greed and selfishness, a court has heard.
The fund was set up to supply emergency relief funding for struggling small businesses affected by bushfire, Magistrate Peter Barnett said.
"We will always find smarties in our community who want to take advantage of it out of greed and straight-out selfishness. This is very much like social security fraud."
Emmalee Jane Taylor, 29, has admitted to being part of a fraudulent application for $10,000 based on claims of damage to a business she said she owned and operated in Old Bar. But the people living at the address provided had never heard of that business, the court heard, and the location was outside the program's footprint.
She said a friend of hers made the application, and while she provided the details of the business and her account details, she did not lodge the claim herself.
"She wants to down play it by saying she didn't do the paper work or put it in," Mr Barnett said.
But it made very little difference who filled out the forms, he said.
"It involved preparation with her knowledge and she provided the details of her bank account," he said.
The scam was one that a number of people in the community had become aware of and attempted, he said.
Detectives established Strike Force Roche late last year to investigate alleged fraudulent claims for bushfire disaster relief and small business grants through government agencies. There have since been up to 20 people charged with similar fraud matters in the Toronto and Belmont areas, the court heard.
They include Ellen Louise Howard, 31, of Aberdare, accused of applying for 34 support and recovery payments totally $104,000 and a Belmont South man, Stephen Gregory Hancock, 37, who was arrested with allegedly fraudulently obtaining $110,000 through government support grants. They will both face court this week.
"We all saw what happened in the bushfires in 2019 and 2020 and all know every day now you turn on the ABC and there's a new person there talking about how COVID-19 and the bushfires have ruined their business," Mr Barnett said.
"We are spending trillions of dollars and rising to try and keep the whole country afloat.... but here, this woman and some unknown male seize upon a program designed to help those in desperate need to skim off $10,000 for themselves.
"It's appalling. It's a breach of trust. It is just nasty, mean-fisted greed."
Taylor pleaded guilty to one count of obtain financial benefit by deception, two counts of possess prohibited drug, and drive while disqualified. The court heard she was taking drugs at the time and was homeless. She was ordered to pay back the $10,000, to conduct 200 hours of community service, and to serve a 12 month jail term by way of an Intensive Corrections Order.
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