A man accused of orchestrating an alleged $105 million tax fraud told his alleged co-conspirator it would be “bigger than Ben Hur” if the scheme was uncovered, tapped phone calls played in court have revealed.
- Five people have pleaded not guilty over an alleged $105 million tax fraud
- The jury was played a series of secretly recorded phone calls
- The trial is expected to run for six months
Adam Cranston, the son of former Australian Tax Office (ATO) deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, is one of five people on trial in the NSW Supreme Court for allegedly running a multi-million-dollar tax scam for about four years.
All five have pleaded not guilty.
The alleged scheme involved the accused parties ripping off the government by keeping more than $100 million in GST and Pay As You Go (PAYG) tax that was meant for the ATO.
The Crown alleges they did this by using a legitimate payroll company, Plutus Payroll, to collect gross wages from employers before siphoning off money owed to the ATO into ‘second-tier’ or ‘bottom’ companies with dummy directors.
Crown prosecutor Paul McGuire SC told the court many of these ‘straw’ directors were drug addicts who would accept money to open up bank accounts in their names, without knowing they were involved in alleged tax fraud.
The jury was played a series of secretly recorded phone calls between Mr Cranston and his co-accused — sister Lauren Cranston, Dev Menon, Jason Cornell Onley and Patrick John Willmott.
In one phone call from January 30, 2017, Mr Cranston was audibly stressed about authorities finding out about the alleged scheme.
“If this was uncovered, if this was fully uncovered and they knew exactly what was going on, it would be f*****’ Ben Hur man, this is a big sized company,” Mr Cranston was heard saying to Mr Menon.
In a separate recording from inside a meeting room, Mr Onley and Mr Menon and Mr Cranston spoke about covert ways to communicate with each other that wouldn’t be picked up by the ATO, such as encrypted messaging service Signal.
“When you think you’re under investigation … that’s when they start trying to catch you,” Mr Onley said.
Mr Onley then lambasted Mr Menon for texting him that the ATO had removed a garnishee — a legal order that seizes and freezes money.
“What the f*** would you text me that for?” Mr Onley asked.
“I’m sorry, that’s my fault, my fault, 100 per cent,” Mr Menon replied.
“Don’t text me, ever,” Mr Onley said.
In another recording from February 20, 2017, Mr Cranston, Mr Menon and Mr Willmott could be heard rehearsing the defences they planned to provide to the ATO if they were questioned.
Mr Cranston instructed Mr Willmott to tell the ATO he was employed by former business partner Peter Larcombe, who had died by that time.
“Yeah that’s my story,” Mr Willmott said.
The alleged multi-million-dollar scam run by the group was uncovered by the Australian Federal Police with assistance from the ATO in 2017 as part of Operation Elbrus.
Mr and Ms Cranston’s father, Michael, was also charged in connection with the alleged fraud, accused of abusing his position as a public official, but was found not guilty in 2019.
The trial is expected to be complex and lengthy, with an expected run time of six months, and the jury will hear evidence from people who used Plutus’ services legitimately as well as the ‘dummy directors’.