An alleged criminal syndicate accused of defrauding millions of dollars in Child Care Subsidy payments and COVID-19 Stimulus Package payments has been dismantled by an Australian Federal Police-led joint investigation, with Services Australia, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) and assistance from the Victorian Department of Education and Training.
Five members of the alleged fraud network were this week charged, after more than 150 AFP members and 110 officials from partner agencies executed 10 simultaneous search warrants on premises across eight suburbs in Victoria and New South Wales on Wednesday 25 November, 2020.
The alleged syndicate leaders, a 42-year-old woman from Doncaster East and her partner, a 47-year-old man, plus a 39-year-old senior office employee from Epping, will reappear in court on 9 June, 2021 to face fraud offences including dishonesty charges and conspiracy to cause a loss to the Commonwealth.
Police allege the 42-year-old woman is the owner of a large family day care provider business, which claims the most federal Government payments in Australia. Two family day care educators from Roxburgh Park have also been charged.
Operation Iris-Ayton began in December 2019 to investigate a Melbourne family day care provider for allegedly defrauding the Commonwealth-funded Child Care Subsidy by using phantom children to make claims.
The joint-agency operation is investigating what proportion of more than $15 million in taxpayer-funded payments received by the syndicate were legitimately received. This includes more than $2.4 million in COVID-19 related stimulus payments for a number of Melbourne commercial business owned by the alleged syndicate leaders.
The AFP alleges the two main co-accused attempted to access JobKeeper payments for ineligible employees of a Melbourne restaurant they own, as well as receiving a number of other business support payments that they were not entitled to receive.
The actual total value of the fraud against these payments is yet to be quantified and is subject to ongoing investigations.
On Wednesday, 25 November, 2020, the joint agencies under Operation Iris-Ayton spoke to more than 70 Melbourne family day care educators and parents. A number of the family day care educators and parents are considered to be persons of interest in connection to the alleged fraud network.
AFP Southern Command Commander of Investigations, Todd Hunter, said the AFP anticipated further charges as a result of the investigation.
“As part of a major, large-scale joint-agency operation, we have dismantled an alleged fraud network seeking to exploit benefits and services that exist to help support our community,” Commander Hunter said.
“We allege the two main co-accused of the fraud network have funded grand and luxurious lifestyles on money swindled from Australian taxpayers.
“Money that belongs in the hands of our community, to help care for some of our most vulnerable, we allege has instead been used to foot the bill for an extensive real estate portfolio, spent on properties both here in Melbourne and overseas, along with a number of luxurious holidays.”
Commander Hunter said the operation was also investigating JobKeeper and other forms of COVID-19 support payments the alleged two main co-accused may have received.
“We allege the two main co-accused may have expanded to other fraud avenues during the COVID-19 pandemic, accessing more benefits reserved for those doing it tough during the most challenging of times. Again, we believe these were benefits they were not entitled to.
“The AFP, together with our Commonwealth, state and international partners remain committed to stamping out fraud.”
AFP search warrants were executed simultaneously across eight suburbs in two states as part of this week’s activity, including the Victorian suburbs of Craigieburn, Eltham, Thomastown, Doncaster East, Epping, Roxburgh Park and Greenvale; and in NSW at a commercial property in the suburb of Bankstown.
It is the second alleged fraud syndicate in Melbourne to be dismantled in the past week.
Under Operation Persei, five members of an accused Melbourne crime syndicate were charged last week with defrauding the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Child Care Subsidy of approximately $800,000.
Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen said the operation was another example of successful collaboration to detect and disrupt fraud.
“We’ve got sophisticated fraud investigation and detection capabilities,” Mr Jongen said.
“The message is clear – if you do the wrong thing, you’ll be caught.”