Melbourne fraud network charged over $800,000 theft from Commonwealth

Information on the charges laid against Five members of an accused Melbourne crime syndicate

***Editor's note: arrest footage of on the alleged syndicate can be accessed via HighTail link***

Five members of an accused Melbourne crime syndicate have been charged with defrauding the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Child Care Subsidy of $800,000.

A two year, Australian Federal Police-led investigation has identified a 50-year-old mother of seven as the syndicate's alleged principal offender, who is accused of using welfare programs for personal profit.

The woman and four co-accused appeared in Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Monday, 16 November, 2020, charged with, conspiracy to defraud, dishonestly causing loss to another person, obtaining financial advantages through deception and proceeds of crime offences. They are due to reappear in court on 2 March, 2021.

Operation Persei is a joint agency investigation with Services Australia; the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE); and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

The principal offender, who has a child with a disability on a NDIS plan, is accused of spending some of the NDIS funds allocated for her child on herself, including helping to buy a new home in Whittlesea.

She is also accused of setting up a NDIS provider business, and with another NDIS provider, a 52-year-old woman from Melton, using their businesses to exploit people with a disability for profit.

The AFP alleges the businesses set up NDIS plans that could be purposely defrauded. It means 6 people with a disability did not receive the full level of care they were entitled to.

The principal offender is also accused of fraudulently obtaining government benefits by employing her romantic, live-in partner, a 30-year-old man, as the carer for her children. AFP investigators allege the man instead worked at his hair dressing salon, and the child care subsidy rebate was used to employ nannies for their home.

A 32-year-old woman from Meadow Heights and a 31-year-old woman from Coburg also claimed benefits to care for the principal offender's children but it is alleged the pair never provided the care, or it was not within DESE guidelines.

Overall, the syndicate defrauded taxpayers of about $800,000.

AFP Commander acting Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said the syndicate members faced jail terms if convicted.

"The AFP works tirelessly with agency partners to protect taxpayers' money by ensuring the integrity of the welfare system,'' a/ Assistant Commissioner Barrett said.

"Stealing from Australians is a crime but defrauding funds from those who rely on additional support is abhorrent.

"This joint agency investigation has not only led to the arrest of alleged offenders but also prevented the syndicate from further defrauding of the NDIS, with three providers de-registered and another's registration being rejected. It will also mean NDIS recipients targeted by the accused will now receive the resources they are entitled to."

Services Australia General Manager for Business Integrity, Anthony Seebach said Australians expect us to maintain the integrity of the system of social supports and this includes detecting, investigating and prosecuting people who seek to abuse that system.

"This is another case that shows the strength of the collaboration between Commonwealth agencies to disrupt and dismantle organised networks committing fraud."

The Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the Federal Government continues to take strong action against shonky operators who try to rort Australian taxpayers.

"Our Government is cracking down on child care fraud saving the taxpayer more than $3.1 billion since 2014 and leading to 102 people being charged with a criminal offence," Mr Tehan said.

"My message to anyone thinking of trying to rip off the Australian taxpayer through the child care system is – don't, because we will come after you. We have added 380 operators to the Government's compliance register since its introduction in 2018."

The full breakdown of charges can be found below:

The 50-year-old, Whittlesea based woman

  • Conspiring with diverse others with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to subsection 135.4(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to section 135.1(5) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Conspiring with another with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to section 135.4(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Two counts of Aid, abet, counsel or procure the commission of an offence against subsection 135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to subsections 11.2(1) and 135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Aid, abet, counsel or procure the commission of an offence against subsection 135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to subsections 11.2(1) and 135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Dishonestly obtain a financial advantage by deception, contrary to s82(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC).
  • Submit false information with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to subsection 135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The 30-year-old Lalor man

  • Conspire with another with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, contrary to section 135.4(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception, contrary to s82(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC).

The 52-year-old woman from Melton

  • Conspiring with diverse others, with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, namely the National Disability Insurance Agency, which is a Commonwealth entity, contrary to subsection 135.4(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The 32-year-old woman from Meadow Heights

  • Between 8 January 2019 and 9 March 2019, at Melbourne in Victoria, submitting false claims for the provision of child care services, with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, namely the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which is a Commonwealth entity, contrary to s135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Between 27 August 2018 and 7 February 2019, at Melbourne in Victoria, submitting false claims for the provision of child care services, with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, namely the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which is a Commonwealth entity, contrary to s135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Between 2 July 2018 and 11 August 2018, at Melbourne in Victoria, submitting false claims for the provision of child care services, with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, namely the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which is a Commonwealth entity, contrary to s135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The 31-year-old woman from Coburg

  • Between 7 September 2018 and 17 November 2018, at Melbourne in Victoria submitted false claims for the provision of child care services, with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person, namely the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which is a Commonwealth entity, contrary to s135.1(3) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

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