Five people who faced a marathon trial in the NSW Supreme Court over one of Australia’s largest tax frauds have all been found guilty of their respective roles.
Last week, Patrick Willmott became the fifth defendant to hear a guilty verdict from the NSW Supreme Court jury on two charges, after they were accused of causing a loss to the Commonwealth of more than $105 million.
Siblings Adam and Lauren Cranston, lawyer Dev Menon and ex-professional snowboarder Jason Onley were also found guilty of conspiring to cause a loss to the Commonwealth and conspiring to deal with the proceeds of crime valued at over $1 million.
The Cranston siblings are the children of former ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, however there is no suggestion he was involved in any wrongdoing.
Tuesday’s guilty verdict means all conspirators are now behind bars.
The trial began last April and the jurors heard from more than 30 witnesses, saw dozens of exhibits, and were played hours of secret recordings.
Deliberations began in mid-January.
Justice Anthony Payne thanked the jurors — who have now been involved in the case for some 11 months — for their “incredible” public service.
“Your dedication to your task has been truly outstanding,” he said.
The judge said given the length of time they had performed their role, members of the panel would be excused from further jury duty for 20 years.
The trial heard a company called Plutus Payroll collected gross wages from employers before money that should have gone to the ATO by way of GST and Pay As You Go (PAYG) tax was siphoned via “second tier” companies.
Dummy directors installed in those companies were random and unconnected, including drug addicts who accepted money to open bank accounts in their names.
Plutus appeared “squeaky clean” and tax compliant, jurors heard.
The conspiracy — which ran between 2014 and 2017 — was analogous to a train, according to the Crown, with people getting on and off at different stations or points in time.
Plutus boasted a zero-fee service which was “too good to be true”.
It was the Crown case that the group conspired to spend unpaid tax on “toys” — extravagant purchases including houses, cars, boats and planes.
The scam was exposed following an investigation by the Australian Federal Police with assistance from the ATO as part of Operation Elbrus, and a covert operation gathered evidence about the defendants’ awareness and involvement.
The court heard Adam Cranston controlled the second-tier companies through childhood friend Willmott, his sister, and Menon.
By January 2017 the ATO was closing things down, having been “on the scent” since July the previous year, the jury was told.
In a secret recording from January 2017, Adam Cranston told Menon that if it was uncovered it would be “f****n’ Ben Hur man”.
Menon replied: “It would be the biggest tax fraud in Australia’s history, definitely.”
In other recordings, the defendants rehearsed possible defences including a suggestion that blame be laid at the feet of Peter Larcombe, a former business partner who had died.
In February 2017, it was time to get “stories straight” and secure “self preservation” for all, Menon said in the recordings.
At a meeting, Willmott asked: “Will any of us go to jail?”
Menon replied: “No”. Not if they banded together, Adam Cranston added.
Menon also discussed with his co-conspirators that it would be impossible for the ATO to untangle the conspiracy’s finances.
“There’s no forensic accountant in the world … I can’t even f***en’ piece this together,” he said.
The case returns to court in early May.