A veteran crime journalist received about $2000 to help blackmail $5m from members of a $100m tax fraud syndicate, a court has heard.
Details of a listening device planted by Australian Federal Police inside a lawyers’ office, which captured an alleged shakedown of the players in the Plutus Payroll scandal, are set to be aired in the NSW Supreme Court as Stephen Barrett stands trial.
Mr Barrett, 63, has denied being a part of a joint criminal enterprise that attempted to extort money from several members of the alleged tax rort cartel in 2017.
She said that on February 1, 2017, Mr Barrett and Daniel Rostankovski met with several members of the Plutus group at the offices of Clamenz Lawyers at the MLC Centre in the Sydney CBD during which demands were made for $5m.
Mr Barrett has pleaded not guilty to making an unwarranted demand with menaces with intention to obtain a gain by accusation or threat.
He is alleged to have made threats towards alleged Plutus kingpin Adam Cranston, lawyer Dev Menon and Jason Onley, who were present at the meeting.
Despite the crown admitting that Mr Barrett had left the meeting and was not in the room when the demand for the money was made, they argue he played a central figure in the scheme.
“After the menaces are made by the accused – I’m a journalist, I’ve got all the contacts, I know about the fraud – then we have the unwarranted demands made … for an amount of money of about five million,” Ms McDonald said.
“I’m the real deal, OK,” Mr Barrett is alleged to have said.
He also said “Google me” and bragged about his involvement in a story he did with reporter and presenter Liz Hayes about convicted child molester Robert ‘Dolly’ Dunn.
Ms McDonald told the court that Mr Barrett had explained at the meeting it (the alleged rort) was “a very serious story” and “If I go the distance, I’ve spoken to the boss at A Current Affair who I used to work under.”
She further said that while Mr Barrett claimed he didn’t know if the allegations were true, he claimed had been “shown evidence” and “I’ll need to interview yourselves”.
Members of the Plutus Payroll group are alleged to have used second tier companies to divert Pay As You Go tax and GST, which should have been remitted to the ATO, into their own bank accounts, the court heard.
Ms McDonald told the court that between March 2014 and May 2017, the Plutus Payroll group ripped off more than $105m that should have been forward to the ATO.
“(Plutus) are saying to clients ‘we’ll provide services to you’, the money goes off to employees and the tax goes off to the tax office,” Ms McDonald said.
“We say the deception is they were never intending to do that … They were going to keep the money.”
Officers also executed a search warrant at Channel 9.
The trial is expected to hear evidence from former A Current Affair national executive producer Grant Williams.
Ms McDonald said Mr Williams would testify that in January 2017, he received a phone call from Mr Barrett pitching a story about a “major scandal” involving the son of the deputy commissioner of taxation.
However Mr Williams was set to tell the court he did not hear again from Mr Barrett and did not commission him to conduct an investigation, Ms McDonald said.
Mr Cranston has flagged his intention to fight allegations he orchestrated a scheme that defrauded the ATO and is awaiting trial in the Supreme Court.
Mr Menon and Mr Onley are also set to go to trial later this year.
Mr Barrett’s trial before Justice Peter Johnson continues.