Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Imprisonment for five in money laundering and tax claim syndicate

Year: 
2020-2021
Category: 
Commercial, Financial and Corruption
Location: 
Victoria

Name: Operation Spinel: Marc Christian, Michael Ray, Melissa Briscoe, Mathew Briscoe, Catlan Bell

Date of Judgment: Last offender was sentenced on 23/11/2020

Court: County Court Victoria

Partner Agency: AFP (lead agency) and ATO

Summary of charges:

Money Laundering:

  • Christian, Ray, Mathew Briscoe: 400.9(1) Criminal Code.

Operation Spinel 1:

  • Bell:
    • (1) aiding and abetting others to dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage from the ATO contrary to 11.2 & 134.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
    • (2) attempt to aid and abet others to obtain a financial advantage by deception contrary to 11.1, 11.2 and 134.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

Operation Spinel 2:

  • Christian, Ray, Melissa Briscoe: Conspiracy to dishonestly obtain a gain from the Commonwealth contrary to section 135.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

Synopsis:  

Five people have been sentenced following a series of investigations over an eight year period by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Taxation Office. The offenders conspired to defraud the Commonwealth through an intricate money laundering and fraudulent tax claim scheme involving hundreds of stolen identities, shell companies, bank accounts and false business activity statements. The syndicate conspired with the intention of dishonestly obtaining more than $5 million in tax refunds, of which they ultimately obtained approximately $2.5 million.

Key points:

In 2012 safe deposit boxes in the control of Christian, Ray and Mathew Briscoe were searched and approximately $1.5 million in cash was seized. In 2014, following further investigations by the AFP and ATO, Christian, Ray, Mathew Briscoe were successfully prosecuted by the CDPP for money laundering offences contrary to s 400.9(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth). At that time, the predicate offence (the offending means by which the proceeds of crime were obtained) was unknown.

One of the victims who had their identity stolen found their name listed on the internet and brought the list to the attention of the AFP. A joint investigation by AFP and the ATO commenced code named Operation Spinel.

Operation Spinel initially investigated Bell whose involvement led to an undertaking to provide evidence for the prosecution against Bell’s co-conspirators.

From 2014, further investigation uncovered that from 2012 Marc Christian had commenced a criminal scheme where he, Michael Ray and Melissa Briscoe acquired identity documentation from unsuspecting victims with the assistance of a then ATO employee Catlan Bell who had been recruited by Ray and Melissa Briscoe. The syndicate used those identity documents, details from other sources and taxpayer details provided by Bell to set up hundreds of companies with hundreds of bank accounts. The syndicate’s fake companies were then used to lodge fraudulent expense claims to the ATO and receive refunds for those claims. In doing so the syndicate members dishonestly obtained a financial advantage from the Commonwealth.

The CDPP was briefed by the AFP and with the assistance of the ATO successfully prosecuted the crimes undertaken by the syndicate, obtaining guilty pleas from the accused.

Sentencing:

Money Laundering:

  • Christian: 400.9(1) Criminal Code: 12 months’ imprisonment, released after six months on a recognizance release order (RRO) for two years and $1,000.
  • Ray: 400.9(1) Criminal Code: 12 months’ imprisonment, released immediately on a RRO for 18 months and $1,000.
  • Mathew Briscoe: 400.9(1) Criminal Code: three months’ imprisonment, released upon entering a RRO for two years and $1,000.

Operation Spinel 1:

  • Bell: 32 months’ imprisonment released forthwith on a RRO for 15 months.

Operation Spinel 2:

  • Christian and Ray were both sentenced to five years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years.
  • Melissa Briscoe: two years and six months’ imprisonment released forthwith on a RRO for two years.

Relevant links:

ATO media release