Coast mother free after ripping off ATO for $140,000

RIPPING off the tax office for more than $140,000 caught up with Sunshine Coast mum Tracey Leigh Charleson more than three years after she submitted her last false claim.

But she walked free from Maroochydore District Court yesterday with no order to pay back the money after Judge John Robertson described the circumstances of her offending as "exceptional".

Charleson, 36, was trying to keep her struggling Gold Coast real estate franchise afloat when she began submitting false Business Activity Statements on behalf of two businesses in 2010.

One of the businesses never actually traded.

Her offending continued until 2012, with claims for GST reparations being lodged after the Australian Taxation Office contacted her to advise her the first business she had made claims for was being audited.

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The court heard Charleson had tried to gain $327,927 from the tax office, of which $141,056.09 was paid into one of her accounts.

She submitted 11 false documents in November and December 2012 when questioned by auditors.

Charleson also went to the length of establishing a virtual receptionist, so that if the tax office contacted the numbers on the false documents, their inquiries would be diverted to her.

Commonwealth prosecutor Heather Cunningham said there had been a level of pre-meditation and planning to Charleson's offending.

"This is something where things had been done to perpetuate the fraud," Ms Cunningham said.

She said there were no prospects for reparations.

Charleson cried in the dock as her crimes were detailed.

Defence barrister Katarina Prskalo said her client had resigned from her senior administration role with a property developer just before giving birth to twin daughters in early 2009.

Ms Prskalo said Charleson was encouraged by her then husband's parents to buy a Raine and Horne real estate franchise, which began trading in December 2009.

However, it was only a few months later when Charleson became worried about the financial viability of the business.

Ms Prskalo said Charleson's husband was offering limited assistance with the care of the twin babies and debts were accruing.

Charleson went to a GP in July that year and was prescribed anti-depressant medication.

She later understood her condition at that time to have been post-natal depression but it was not diagnosed as such. Extreme stress of motherhood, business strains and a breakdown of her marriage were given as background to her offending.

"It (depression) did compromise her ability to problem solve in a morally correct way," Ms Prskalo said.

She said her client had received counselling and moved to the Sunshine Coast, where she now had a work role with significant financial responsibility.

Judge Robertson said it had taken him anxious and careful deliberation to come to a sentence which did not involve actual imprisonment.

He noted Charleson's ex-husband had admitted he had not supported her adequately as she "spiralled into depression".

By the time her franchise agreement was terminated in 2012, Charleson owed Raine and Horne $300,000 for a business which was purchased for $70,000.

Judge Robertson said Charleson's moral culpability for her crimes had been reduced on account of her undiagnosed or poorly managed postpartum depression. He said she had since returned to her responsible, law-abiding self.

Charleson was sentenced to three years in jail with immediate release on a $1000 good behaviour bond. No reparations were ordered.



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