While tax agents and accountants are supposed to be a business owner’s trusted adviser, one tax agent has been jailed for stealing client funds and claiming bogus returns.
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) revealed that Victorian-based tax agent Brendan Harty had been sentenced to jail for seven years – with a non-parole period of four years and nine months – after he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of dishonestly obtaining funds.
The County Court of Victoria heard that Mr Harty lodged 161 inaccurate BAS and tax returns under the names of 31 clients. These false statements enabled him to obtain a staggering $875,160 in refunds between October 2013 and August 2016. Additionally, he had attempted to obtain a further $46,029 the same way.
Mr Harty also stole a further $37,477 directly from a number of clients, and, in one instance, used the ASIC portal to fraudulently add himself as a signatory to a client’s bank account through their corporate trust.
In total, Mr Harty had been charged with 10 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception, one charge of attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception and a separate charge under state law of obtaining financial advantage.
Fraud by tax agents is relatively rare, given the level of scrutiny and regulation to which they are subjected. However, it is not the first time a tax agent has been sent to prison for fiddling the figures.
In October last year, another Victorian tax agent was jailed over a $550,000 fraud.
The federal government’s Serious Financial Crime Taskforce said at the time it had four more convictions, following 587 in-depth audits.
Nevertheless, the tax commissioner has criticised tax professionals after finding they had a higher rate of incorrect claims than self-prepared returns.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.