A retired Melbourne man who fraudulently claimed almost $250,000 in welfare payments has been sentenced to four years in prison, after he was found guilty of defrauding and deceiving the Commonwealth.
John McNally, 69, was sentenced to four years behind bars with a non-parole period of two-and-a-half years for defrauding a total of $243,875.26, according to an official statement from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) – Australia’s federal prosecution service.
While McNally was claiming and receiving Newstart payments under the name of John Gerald McNally between 1997 to 2015, he also claimed Disability Support Pension payments under a different name – Gerald McNally – at the same time.
He first lodged a claim for the Newstart Allowance using a different date of birth in August 1997, while already receiving the Disability Support Pension.
McNally then continued receiving those payments right through to January 2014, before eventually being transferred from Newstart to the Age Pension as he turned 65. From there, he received the pension payments until November 2015, when they were eventually cancelled following an investigation.
After appearing in the County Court of Victoria, the CDPP said when McNally claimed the payments, he defrauded the Commonwealth by knowingly making the claims with false statements.
Authorities caught McNally out with a data match by the Australian Taxation Office. Meanwhile, following a search of his home, a number of documents were found in the name of John McNally and Gerald McNally. Investigators also found $51,400 in cash. He has since paid back $2,019.20, as well as forfeiting the $51,400, but still owes $190,456.06.
McNally will be eligible for parole in 2021. The news comes a month after the government vowed to crack down on welfare debt dodgers, with Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan announcing anyone who has rorted the system by fraud or failed to pay back overpaid money could be stopped from travelling overseas.
The Department of Human Services has already started issuing Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs), which have prevented former welfare recipients from departing Australia. Since June, more than 20 DPOs have been issued to people with outstanding debt they’ve refused to pay back.
More than 150,000 people who are no longer in the welfare system owe money to the tune of more than $800 million.
“These people are making no effort to repay their debts and the Government believes that if they can afford to go on an overseas holiday, they can afford to start repaying what they owe,” Keenan said in a statement last month. “We make no apologies for the tough action we are taking, as many of those who are in our sights have known about these debts for years – in some cases for up to a decade.”
For those who owe money that have already planned a holiday, setting up a repayment plan with the Department of Human Services will ensure they’re not stopped at the border. The amount that is to be repaid each week or fortnight will depend on personal circumstances.
In April, welfare cheats were given a month to pay their debts back or risked paying 8.77 per cent interest so the Department of Human Services could get back hundreds of millions owed in falsified welfare claims.
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