An accountant who attempted to use his autism as a defence in court has been jailed for four years after pleading guilty to defrauding the Australian Taxation Office of $2.4 million in GST refund.
The accountant, Philip Tadros, was sentenced to prison by the Melbourne County Court, despite the defence arguing he’d be left terrified and traumatised by the entire incident.
Tadros was employed as a tax accountant with a Hawthorn-based accountant between March 14 and November 7, 2011, and during this time he accessed the ATO’s tax agent portal and altered 127 Business Activity Statements.
Warfield and Associates chief executive Brett Warfield told SmartCompany Tadros’ sentence was consistent with those usually delivered by the courts for fraud of this dollar value.
“A lot of these crimes are just motivated by greed when it comes to defrauding the ATO. It’s seen as an easy target because it relied on the information which you provide it.
“People rely on their accountants and effectively you get them to prepare your accounts and submit monthly and quarterly reports to the ATO. There are opportunities to alter these and the only way to detect this is to have access to the tax department’s portal and have someone independently check the statements,” he says.
As a result of the false statements, Tadros received more than $2.4 million from the ATO in the form of a cash refund for GST credits.
Tadros used the money to establish his “property empire”, as he purchased five investment homes in New Zealand.
Tadros attempted the same behaviour on three other occasions to obtain a further $67,272 between May and November 2011, but refunds for these BAS statements were not paid.
He managed to conduct the scheme despite having a reportedly low IQ and poor cognitive abilities as a result of his autism spectrum disorder.
In a consultant psychiatrist’s evaluation, Tadros explained he had been motivated to start investing in property after he’d noticed his accounting clients with properties in their self-managed superannuation funds received good returns, but he was unable to obtain a loan to do the same.
Tadros revealed he targeted companies with fairly large statements in the range of $500,000 per quarter and he’d remove relatively small amounts so as to not draw attention to the fraudulent activity. After altering a client’s BAS statement he would no longer work with them.
Tadros pleaded guilty to five charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception and one charge of attempting to do so, but his defence barrister, Patrick Tehan, QC, argued against a prison sentence, saying his client’s case was an exception which arose because of his autism.
A clinical neurologist found Tadros’ autism meant he could recite laws, but not necessarily follow them because of his poor reasoning skills and mild impulsivity.
The prosecutor Krista Breckweg argued these mitigating factors were not powerful enough to justify anything other than a jail sentence.
In his decision, Judge Mark Taft ruled the systematic, serious nature of the offence meant the gravity of the crime could not be overlooked.
It was also determined Tadros had been acutely aware of his conduct shown by his attempts to conceal it. He was sentenced to a minimum of two years in jail.
Within accountancy firms, Warfield says there is always a risk of this type of unscrupulous behaviour.
“Like anybody who is dealing with clients, accountancy or law, when you’re dealing with clients and there is money involved, there is a risk and some manage this through internal audits, while others choose to wear the risk,” he says.