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Michael James O'Brien, 67, jailed for record Victorian fraud


Steve Butcher

A former director and company secretary of a shelf company has been jailed over a Victorian record multimillion dollar fraud committed by advancing finance to fictitious used car buyers.

Michael James O’Brien, 67, who caused losses of $24.7 million, pleaded guilty to 14 charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and one charge of theft between May, 2007 and January, 2009.

Chief Judge Michael Rozenes of the County Court on Friday said the monetary value of O'Brien's offending was "greater than anything previously recorded in Victoria".

Chief Judge Rozenes said O'Brien was invited by a co-accused to participate and then "concocted a scheme to obtain funding by creating fictitious loan applications made by fictitious borrowers".

O'Brien was jailed for nine years with a minimum of five years and four months.

He said O'Brien's role in the scheme was to "personally recommend and approve the granting of fictitious loans", thereby circumventing the prescribed approval process, and as the scheme gained momentum the three men "refined" the process by opening a number of accounts into which funds were paid.

Australian Motor Finance Corporate Pty Ltd (AMFC) was the financier of the loans, he said, and was effectively a shell corporation with no assets or operations, while Australian Motor Finance Ltd (AMFL) provided the infrastructure and personnel for AMFC's loan business.

On 300 occasions, between June, 2007 and December, 2008, O'Brien submitted numerous claims for finance, which contained fraudulent loans and obtained a total of $39,862,965 of which $17,911,057 was referable to the fraudulent loans, Chief Judge Rozenes said.

Defence lawyer Kristina Kothrakis earlier told the court that O'Brien, who has no prior convictions, was initially "shocked" by the illegal proposal but offered no resistance to it.

Ms Kothrakis said two of his previous business ventures had failed and he thought that with time and "breathing space" the business would recover.

She submitted that O'Brien's offending was not motivated by greed or for a lavish lifestyle, but from a desire to keep the business afloat, and also emphasised he cooperated with the authorities.

In his sentencing remarks, Chief Judge Rozenes noted the substantial monetary value of the crimes, that the offending involved a breach of trust and a "high degree of planning, method and sophistication" and that it had had a significant impact upon the victims.

He took into account O'Brien's guilty pleas, cooperation and the delay in finalising the case.

Chief Judge Rozenes said he was satisfied that O'Brien entered into the enterprise and persisted with it "in an effort to keep the business afloat and, having previous experience with failed businesses, did not want the same thing to happen again".

"It does appear that the vast bulk of monies appropriated in the scheme were 're-invested' in the business," he said. "That is not to say that you did not benefit.

"By ensuring that the business was kept alive, you retained your employment which, in turn, kept your family relatively comfortable ... "

He told O'Brien: "I am also satisfied that beyond providing you with a relatively comfortable lifestyle, there was no evidence of the proceeds being used to support a lavish lifestyle, or otherwise being squandered.

"In the end, though, this is of little comfort to the victims.

"The financiers have lost a very large amount of money and incurred other expenses ... and other victims have suffered an impairment of their credit standing with financial institutions.

"It cannot be said that there is mitigation to be found in the fact that the substantive victims in your case are well-heeled financial institutions rather than small-time investors."

Chief Judge Rozenes also noted that the theft charge involved $2.75 million, of which about $260,000 went into accounts controlled by O'Brien.

"You claimed that the transfers had been effected by [a co-offender]," he said. "All but some $15,000 was reversed by the bank at your request.

"Moneypac retained $5000 and $10,000 was sent to your credit card account. The theft was brazen and it was also desperate.

"The game was up and you and your co-offenders attempted to salvage something for yourselves.  It showed a level of callous disregard for the right of your creditors."

HuffPost Australia

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