A couple who engaged It's a Bargain Building Services to renovate their home ended up with nothing like what the name implied after the company's director swindled them of more than $60,000.
Former Canberra builder Clinton Peter Beaumont Dotta used doctored documents to dupe his victims, whom he has since paid back.
The 34-year-old's remorse was a key factor in Justice John Burns sparing him time behind bars on Wednesday, when Dotta was sentenced to a wholly suspended jail term of 12 months.
Dotta, who is now a nightclub manager, pleaded guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court earlier this year to a charge of obtaining financial advantage by deception.
Agreed facts tendered to the Supreme Court at his sentencing on Wednesday show his victims, a Bruce couple, began discussing home renovations with Dotta in late 2015.
A few months later he provided the pair with documents relating to the planned works, including a building commencement notice and architectural drawings that appeared to have been given the green light by the ACT Planning and Land Authority.
The "approved" stamps on the drawings were, however, the wrong sort and in places they would not appear if they were genuine.
"No plans for [the victims'] home had ever been lodged with [the authority]," the agreed facts say.
Crown prosecutor Elizabeth Wren told the court the building commencement notice was not legitimate either.
She said it related to a different project but had been illegally altered to look as if it was for the Bruce renovations.
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The victims ultimately entered into a contract to give the builder more than $172,000 for works on their family home.
They only forked out a little more than $60,000, however, before becoming dissatisfied with Dotta's slow progress and making enquiries that uncovered his deceit.
The couple reported Dotta to police and also took civil action against the dodgy builder, who finished repaying them the deceptively obtained money, plus interest, in March this year.
Dotta's barrister, James Sabharwal, on Wednesday accepted that the sort of fraud perpetrated by Dotta had to be deterred.
But he said a term of immediate custody could be avoided, suggesting a suspended sentence coupled with community service would be appropriate.
Mr Sabharwal told the court Dotta no longer held a builder's licence and planned to move to Queensland to be near his young son.
Ms Wren submitted that a sentence of imprisonment was required, though how it would be served was a matter for the court.
"Had the wheels not fallen off the project, [Dotta] stood to gain significantly more from the victims," she said.
Justice Burns described Dotta's offending as premeditated and involving "a degree of sophistication".
"The deception was one that was able to return a significant financial advantage to you," the judge told the 34-year-old.
Justice Burns said he was, however, satisfied the victims were no longer out of pocket, describing their repayment as "a mitigatory factor".
He accepted that Dotta was remorseful and said the recently discharged bankrupt was unlikely to reoffend in a similar way.
But the judge said he had to balance this with general deterrence, which was "a significant sentencing consideration".
"It is important that I impose a sentence that will bring home to those who might be minded to offend in a similar way that their actions will have real consequences," he said.
Justice Burns ultimately convicted Dotta and imposed the 12-month suspended jail sentence.
He also ordered the 34-year-old to be of good behaviour for a year, and to complete 200 hours of community service within that period.
Dotta donned a face mask and put a hood over his head as he quickly scurried past reporters on his way out of court.
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