Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Solar fraud results in prison term

Year: 
2020-2021
Category: 
International Assistance and Specialist Agencies
Location: 
Queensland

Date of Judgment: 5 August 2019

Court: Brisbane District Court

Partner Agency: The Clean Energy Regulator

Summary of charges:

Muldoon was charged with one count of fraud contrary to section 408C(1)(d) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) and one summary offence of false or misleading documents, contrary to section 137.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

Synopsis:

On 5 August 2019, the Brisbane District Court sentenced Brett Stephen Muldoon to an effective sentence of four and a half years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of 15 months to serve in relation to fraud and false or misleading claims, with respect to the purported installation of over 400 solar water heaters.   

Key points:

Mr Muldoon, a qualified plumber, committed the fraud under the Commonwealth ‘Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme’ (SRES), lodging forms falsely stating that he installed air source heat pumps at various residences around Queensland. The registration of these installations resulted in the issuing of Small-Scale Technology Certificates (STCs), which could be bought and sold at a negotiated price.

The forms submitted by the defendant essentially signed over the rights to these certificates from the homeowners and/or himself, to an agent, in this case Emerging Energy Solutions Group Pty Ltd (EESG). Between 15 September 2013 and 9 September 2014, EESG, relying on the information provided by the defendant, paid him a total of $399,382, for STCs relating to installations that had never occurred. A total of 423 sets of false documents were submitted by Mr Muldoon to EESG, and he was paid for certificates relating to 415 of those purported installations.

The Clean Energy Regulator, the authority responsible for overseeing the SRES scheme, sees fraudulent activity such as this as a threat to the integrity of the schemes it administers. In delivering the sentence, Judge Everson noted that this kind of offending is serious and sentences that satisfy the need for general deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation were therefore called for. 

His Honour accepted that there had been a delay of more than three years between the detection of the offending and the defendant being charged, and that the defendant had entered early pleas of guilty. His Honour took into account the psychological and psychiatric reports tendered on the defendant’s behalf, diagnosing the defendant with a persistent and severe gambling disorder (the defendant having spent the entirety of the money he obtained on gambling). His Honour commented that had it not been for the mitigating circumstances of delay and the fact that the defendant had demonstrated rehabilitation (with his gambling disorder in remission), a higher sentence would have been imposed.

Sentencing:

Mr Muldoon entered guilty pleas, and was sentenced in relation to:

  • one count of fraud contrary to section 408C(1)(d) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) [the court imposed four and a half years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of 15 months to serve]
  • one summary offence of false or misleading documents, contrary to section 137.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth) [the court imposed a six month term of imprisonment, to be served concurrently].