CQ Grazier tried to claim en suite in disaster relief fraud
A YEAR before claiming drought assistance on plumbing and shed work that turned out to be an ensuite, a Central Queensland grazier had to de-stock their property
Rachel Amelia Leitch, 31, repeatedly altered invoices with handwritten figures to claim more than she was entitled to under Federal Government drought assistance schemes including money for an ensuite.
The former Rockhampton Girls Grammar School and CQUniversity education student pleaded guilty today to 26 charges of fraud, attempted fraud and forgery in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court.
The court heard Leitch had paid $15, 850 restitution to the Federal Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries prior to her sentencing for the offences between May 2013 and August 2015.
On top of paying back the money she wasn't entitled to, Leitch had unsuccessfully attempted to gain $12, 390 through the scheme.
Defence lawyer Dan Creevey said 2013 was the driest year Lietch and her husband, Jason, had seen.
He said they ended up de-stocking their property, located 150km outside Springsure which they purchased for $2.76 million in 2010, due to lack of water and feed.
The court heard the couple owned property worth $4.8 million and currently owe $2.4 million to banks.
Mr Creevey said they had also experienced three separate floods in four to five years.
He said on top of de-stocking, which meant they didn't have an income, the couple found out they were pregnant towards the end of 2013.
"2013 was very stressful,” Mr Creevey said.
"They had no income, they were broke and they were stressed.
"They were frightened for their future.”
The court heard the department spoke with Leitch about inaccuracies on her first round of claims between May and August 2013.
Mr Creevey said Leitch didn't know what she was doing when it came to the claims.
Magistrate Jeff Clarke said he found it hard to believe that a highly educated woman from the land, after being advised by the department how to go about the claims, would continue to provide documents with handwritten additions including the en suite.
"With the forthcoming birth of their child, they needed the improvements to the house,” Mr Creevey said.
Mr Clarke said this was "plainly deceitful” behaviour.
"Quite frankly, this is disgraceful, shameful conduct,” he said.
Mr Clarke said false claims had the potential to make it more difficult for those farmers doing the right thing to get the assistance they need in a timely manner and could put the department at risk of not being adequately funded for future disasters.
He said it was also concerning that Leitch continued her "falsehoods” when interviewed by police in 2016, prior to exercising her rights to remain silent.
Mr Clarke said he was therefore unable to accept these false claims were the result of mistakes or confusion and deemed the offending systematic.
"My initial inclination was to send you to prison today to spend actual time in custody,” he told Leitch.
However, Mr Clarke pointed to the prosecutions submission for a suspended sentence and previous cases referred to that showed higher courts had not imprisoned those offenders who had prepaid restitution.
He ordered Leitch to a two-year prison term, wholly suspended and operational for four years. Convictions were recorded for all charges.