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Tax cheat jailed for defrauding ATO of $300k

A 52-YEAR-old Woolooga woman who defrauded the Australian Taxation Office of almost $300,000 was jailed yesterday in Gympie District Court.

Therese Maree Bushell lodged false claims as part of her and her husband's business activity statements (BAS) over a period of three years and nine months, bringing her a total of $284,997 in fraudulent returns.

She pleaded guilty to 27 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception and six counts of attempting to do so.

The court heard the expense claims, mainly for fuel or GST credits, were made for entities including a cycad plant business and a scrap metal business based out of Woolooga.

The court heard the cycad business, which was established after Bushell had begun lodging false claims for the other businesses, failed due to the 2011 floods.

Justice Fleur Kingham said the offending was not sophisticated but it was consistent.

"IN every bass statement you made, you a made false claim," Justice Kingham said.

The court heard the false claims came to light in 2010 during a routine audit of the businesses.

Bushell was asked to provide statements to prove the claims that were lodged but they could not be substantiated.

In September 2011 police became involved and executed a search warrant on Bushell and her husband's home and businesses before she was charged with fraud.

Justice Kingham said the offending was ripping off the nation, describing the crimes as "most serious offences".

"They are not victimless crimes," she said. "In fact, all citizens suffer as a result of this offending."

Justice Kingham said the cost of Bushell's offending to the government didn't just come from the fraud itself but from the cost of relevant authorities to investigate and collect evidence.

She said she did not believe the offending was a way of funding a "frivolous" lifestyle, but as "a way of keeping struggling businesses running".

Justice Kingham said she could understand how flooding could have contributed to her committing the fraud but she didn't know what pushed Bushell to make the original false claims in 2007, depsite the defence saying Bushell had been under health and other pressures during some of the offending.

After taking numerous factors into account, including Bushell's husband's poor health, her lack of history for dishonesty offences and the nature of the offending, Justice Kingham sentenced Bushell to three years jail.

Bushell will be released on parole after serving 12 months in custody.

Topics:  australian taxation office defrauding gympie magisatrates court

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