Huge figure fraudster must pay taxpayers
A 62-year-old fraudster who ripped off taxpayers of more than $246,000 with false business activity statements has been ordered to pay the money back under her new sentence.
Gold Coast woman Laura Aprile was sentenced to four years' jail in February 2019 after a jury convicted her of six counts of using a forged document and three counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception.
She successfully appealed her conviction in October that same year, resulting in them being set aside and a retrial being granted.
Bizarrely, Aprile pleaded guilty to all the charges in November 2020, just days before her new trial was to begin.
On Thursday at Brisbane District Court, she kept her head down as Judge Paul Smith handed down a new sentence.
She had been on bail since being released from custody since October 2019.
The court was told Aprile fraudulently claimed a GST refund by submitting false business activity statements.
Judge Smith said she was the "controlling mind" of entities involved in legitimate property purchases that were the subject of audits by the Australian Taxation Office.
He said by talking with ATO auditors, Aprile learned how to fabricate the appearance of subsequent transfers of the properties.
"You gave the appearance of taxable supplies, which entitled the entities to GST credits," Judge Smith said.
Aprile falsified letters, tax invoices and contracts to support the claim, which were relied on by the ATO that GST applied to the property sales.
Judge Smith said Aprile was never entitled to claim the GST credits.
"In reality, legal title on the properties was never transferred between the entities, meaning there were no taxable supplies," he said.
The total loss to the taxpayer was $246,309.56 and the ATO has only recovered $991.
While Aprile was originally convicted by a jury on all counts, Queensland's Court of Appeal ruled in October 2019 that the trial judge had failed to direct the jury on the meaning of the word "dishonesty".
The court also ruled the "Elements of Offences" document did not include the element that the six documents she submitted were actually "false documents".
The Court of Appeal subsequently set aside her convictions, ordered a retrial and granted her bail.
Aprile's defence barrister, Bruce Mumford, said his client was under pressure to pay back a hefty bank loan at the time.
"Ultimately Ms Aprile gave a personal guarantee for loans exceeding $8 million," Mr Mumford said.
The court was told she was bankrupted in 2016 and now cared for her elderly mother on the Gold Coast.
During Aprile's time in custody, Mr Mumford said she helped prisoners complete their Year 12 education equivalent and now wanted to volunteer in prison ministry as a chaplain.
Judge Smith said jail was the only appropriate term for her "extensive" tax fraud.
"It was an ongoing course of conduct, it wasn't isolated," Judge Smith said.
Aprile was sentenced to three years' jail but released immediately on a recognisance order of $1000.
The 259 days she had spent in custody between February and October 2019 was declared as time served.
Judge Smith also ordered Aprile pay $245,318.56 in reparations for her offences.
Originally published as Huge figure fraudster must pay taxpayers