Drought generic picture.
Drought generic picture. Kevin Farmer

Drought drove third generation grazier to $60,000 fraud

DROUGHT had driven a third generation grazier to forge tax invoices and defraud the government of more than $60,000 in drought relief.

John Reginald Frith's family had run Dingwall cattle station near Morven in western Queensland for almost 100 years.

However, the drought of recent years had impacted significantly on the station prompting the 44-year-old to forge tax invoices on 10 occasions which he then used in three applications to the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme to obtain funding.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries which is responsible for the drought assistance scheme on two occasions provided funding to Frith, the first in the order of $29,000 in 2013 and $38,500 in 2015 while a third application in 2017 was not successful, Toowoomba Magistrates Court heard.

During subsequent investigations, police executed search warrants on Frith's home in St George last year.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Catherine Neilsen told the court Frith had been co-operative with police and provided a record of interview during which he had made full admissions to his offending.

Frith pleaded guilty to 23 offences including 10 counts of forgery, 10 counts of uttering a forged document, and one each of attempted fraud to the value of more than $30,000, fraud - dishonestly inducing delivery of property, and fraud - dishonestly inducing delivery of property to the value of more than $30,000.

Sgt Nielsen said police could confirm that all of the $62,600 had been repaid, however, the prosecution was seeking a term of imprisonment with some actual time served in custody.

Defence barrister Alastair McDougall said he agreed that a term of imprisonment was within range but asked the court to structure the sentence in such a way that the husband and father of three would remain in the community.

Mr McDougall said while it was stated by the higher courts that one couldn't buy their way out of prison, paying the restitution in full was a significant factor and his client had had to borrow money in order to do that.

Dingwall cattle station had been in the family since 1922 and it was of great stress to his client that the drought had impacted so seriously on it and it was of further stress to Frith that the property was now on the market, he said.

Not only had the defendant given a three-hour record of interview with police during which he made full admissions, but his instructing solicitor had informed the police early that there was no need for a brief of evidence to be prepared, thereby saving the police weeks of work and expense, he said.

Frith had no criminal history, was remorseful, entered early pleas of guilty and, by a psychologist's report tended to the court, he was considered a very low risk of reoffending.

Magistrate Kay Ryan sentenced Frith to three years in jail but ordered the whole term be suspended for three years.

"I trust that you can move on from this stage of your life with your family," Ms Ryan told Frith.

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