Family day care fraud prosecuted
Name: Zahraa Saadi Majeed Lami and others
Date of Judgment: 2 November 2020
Court: District Court of NSW
Partner Agency: AFP
Summary of charges:
Three co-conspirators defrauded the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) of more than $9 million through child care fraud. The offenders set up companies and installed directors as front people to distance themselves from the fraud. One conspirator and one director have so far been sentenced to four years imprisonment with non-parole periods of two and a half years, and two years respectively. The two other co-conspirators are awaiting sentencing.
Between January and July 2017, the three conspirators implemented a scheme to purchase two pre-existing child care services called IWonder and IGrow - as front companies (the companies) - and falsely claimed child care benefits on their behalf, for 398,936 family day care sessions relating to 2132 children, which were never provided. Those claims were accepted as genuine and as a result, DESE paid child care payments amounting to $9,274,016 into the two respective entity’s bank accounts in the period from February to July 2017.
The scheme involved the use of identity information of numerous children, parents and educators. This identity information was either purchased on the black market or purchased directly from parents for a fee. No actual child care took place and the conspirators bought the children’s identity information specifically to lodge false claims for child care benefits.
The front people were appointed directors of the purported family day care services and signatories to the respective company bank accounts.
The front person for the second company iGrow was the co-offender Zahraa Saadi Majeed Lami. The conspirators promised Lami $80,000 for her involvement in the scheme and she was paid $10,000 in cash on 20 July 2017 as a first down-payment. Lami pleaded guilty and was sentenced for an offence of ‘Recklessly deal with proceeds of crime, money or property worth $1,000,000 or more’, contrary to s400.3(2) of the Criminal Code (Cth). Lami dealt with the proceeds of the child care fraud amounting to $4,010,000. Her offending involved attending branches of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia between 19 and 21 July 2017 and drawing down and handing or transferring the proceeds of the child care fraud to the principals.
Following the first phase of their investigation, the AFP issued charges but the investigation continued to follow the money trail. The first person charged was the front person Lami when the proceeds were deposited in her bank accounts. The money was then transferred to the conspirators. The investigation into these matters continued. A high degree of co-operation was required between the AFP and CDPP in this situation.
All the principal conspirators have pleaded guilty to the criminal enterprise. One has been sentenced to four years with a non-parole period of two and a half years.
Lami changed her plea to guilty shortly before her trial before a jury was to commence and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and a non-parole period of two years.