Salim Mehajer sentenced to jail
SALIM Mehajer's stroke of good luck in avoiding lengthy jail sentences has run out after he was today sentenced to at least 11 months behind bars for rigging a council election.
The former Auburn deputy mayor appeared in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court this morning after he was convicted in April of more than 100 counts of electoral fraud.
A Sydney magistrate previously found he acted in a "joint criminal enterprise" with his sister Fatima, to rig the 2012 Auburn Council elections.
It was that election which led to him becoming the deputy mayor. In handing down the sentence today, Magistrate Beverley Schurr imposed a 21 month jail term on Mehajer with a minimum of 11 months to "reflect the serious criminality".
Mehajer was earlier found guilty of forging documents and giving false or misleading information to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) after the court heard he fabricated a number of addresses for friends and family, claiming they resided in Auburn making them eligible to vote.
The alarm bell was raised when the AEC received an unusual number of online applications shortly before the close of the electoral roll.
The magistrate found voters named in some of the forged forms later said they were not responsible for completing or signing them.
"Mr Mehajer and eight other members of his family were registered to vote at false addresses," Ms Schurr said this morning.
Earlier today, Fatima Mehajer, 28, also appeared in court for sentencing after she previously pleaded guilty to 77 offences related to giving the AEC false information for the 2012 Auburn council elections. She avoided jail time because she was "under the direction of her brother" when she took part in a joint criminal enterprise to rig a council election, the court head.
Ms Schurr this morning said that "all offences are proven" against the mother-of-three and imposed a two month suspended jail term with a $500 nine-month good behaviour bond.
Ms Mehajer broke down in tears as the sentence was handed down. She had been in limbo waiting six years for the judgement. The maximum penalty for electoral fraud is 10 years' jail time.
"Ms Mehajer did stand as a candidate (in the 2012 Auburn council elections) but I accept that was unwillingly and under the direction of her brother," Ms Schurr said.
"In 2012 the family dynamic centred around Salim Mehajer … she was 'under team Salim' [and] pressured by the family.
"Mr Mehajer had a more dominant and active role in the offending."
The court previously heard that Ms Mehajer's computer showed "saved images of receipt numbers" for some of the fraudulent election applications.
The two siblings also sent a number of suspicious texts to each other before the electoral roll closed in July 2012.
In handing down the sentence, Ms Schurr said she was satisfied Ms Mehajer "expresses sincere regret" and that taking her away from her children would cause "exceptional hardship".
The court last week heard Ms Mehajer was a "devoted mother of three children" including two twin baby girls and that she was "highly unlikely to reoffend".
"Prior to these charges …[she] was a person of impeccable character," her lawyer told the court.
"She has not offended since then.
"[The] woman that appears before you six years later [is] in fact a very different person from the girl who committed the offences."
SALIM'S SURPRISE MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS
The court last week heard Salim Mehajer was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Mehajer said he "accepted" the diagnosis.
"[It affects] the decisions I make … I'm my own worst enemy," he said.
"Part of my bipolar is to have, have, have.
"I suffered significant depression [when in custody] and [thought] 'maybe I do need help'."
His lawyer Carolyn Davenport SC told the court that could explain but not excuse his "lawlessness" and "notorious escapades".
Prosecutor Jeremy Rapke argued the validity of the diagnosis, saying there was only one expert report to support Mehajer's claims that he was suffering mental illness and that it contained "peculiarities".
Mehajer had previously denied all charges against him but last week told the court he was "happy to accept" his role in fraudulent activities which he described as "a failure". He added that he "didn't do" all of the offences.
"It was a big boy's game … it wasn't for children and that's what we were. We didn't belong there," he said.
Mehajer said he didn't think he was doing anything wrong at the time.
"My aim was to be a part of a group of friends and stand out a bit," he said.
"I didn't get any benefit from council … not even paper … I didn't claim it.
"I'm a completely different person now."
The disgraced businessman became emotional when he spoke of involving his sister Fatima in the electoral fraud.
"I may appear to be a hard shell but inside I'm hurt," he said through tears.
"I dragged my sister in it … and that's the main thing … she's my family."
While in the dock, Mehajer extended a "heartfelt apology" for "his actions [and] behaviour" to his family, community and law enforcement as he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years jail.
"I'm very upset," Mehajer told the court.
"I just wanted to serve the community … for love."
But prosecutor Jeremy Rapke said Mehajer had "betrayed those very people who he [now] professed to have regard for".
"Your honour should have some scepticism to his apologies heard today … he explained it away on his youth … not understanding the seriousness," Mr Rapke said.
"[His] conduct was egregious."
Mehajer shot to prominence in August 2015 when his opulent wedding, which included a jet flyover, four helicopters and $50 million worth of supercars, involved an unauthorised road closure and drew national media attention. That relationship has since dissolved.
"The wedding was the first time … in 2015 …[my sisters thought] 'OK he has serious issues'," Mehajer this morning told the court.
Mehajer said he had started studying law and hoped to continue studies later this year. Mehajer has been in and out of various courts for a marathon of matters this year.
He was released from prison on bail in April following a two-month stint behind bars after being charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly staging a car accident on his way to face court on assault charges.
But it seems his luck has finally run out.
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