Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Adam Cranston jailed for 15 years for $105 million tax fraud

AFP Operation Elbrus: Trio jailed over tax fraud

 Adam Cranston jailed over $105 million Plutus Payroll tax evasion scheme

Adam Cranston jailed for 15 years for Plutus Payroll tax fraud

Adam Cranston jailed for 15 years for $105 million tax fraud

Adam Cranston will spend a maximum of 15 years behind bars for his role as an architect of the $105 million Plutus Payroll tax fraud, which he used to fund lavish personal expenses including properties and luxury cars.

Cranston appeared in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday morning via video link from Silverwater jail, wearing prison greens and a yellow hi-vis vest, to be sentenced by Justice Anthony Payne who set a non-parole period of 10 years. The 36-year-old listened intently throughout the two-hour judgment.

Adam Cranston outside the NSW Supreme Court during his trial.

Adam Cranston outside the NSW Supreme Court during his trial. BROOK MITCHELL

Cranston was found guilty in March with four others, including his sister Lauren Cranston, of conspiring to dishonestly cause a loss to the Commonwealth and conspiring to deal with more than $1 million believing it to be the proceeds of crime.

Using “a number of apparently unrelated subcontracting companies, which were in truth controlled by a number of the conspirators”, the group skimmed PAYG (pay as you go) withholding tax and GST from money received from legitimate clients of fee-free payroll business Plutus Payroll, Payne said.

Of $141 million in taxes collected, $105 million was misappropriated between March 2014 and May 2017.

“I find that Mr Cranston became knowingly involved in the conspiracies from the outset, being February 2014,” the judge said. This included meetings at the Men’s Gallery strip club early that year. Payne rejected the submission Cranston had no knowledge of the conspiracies up to June 2016.

“Plutus was never a legitimate and profitable company and Mr Cranston knew that.”

He said the scheme involved planning, deception and “a high degree of dishonesty”, and Mr Cranston’s role as an instigator or architect was “at the top” of the “vast, three-year long conspiracies”.

It was a “persistent course of conduct which was neither spontaneous nor opportunistic” and a “gross violation of societal norms”.

The court heard Cranston’s personal benefit from the tax rip off was not less than $6,861,782.17.

Payne found Cranston was “principally motivated by financial reward” and one of the primary financial beneficiaries.

The judge also rejected the suggestion that jailed co-conspirator Simon Anquetil was more heavily involved than Cranston or the mastermind.

He said the “real controllers” of second-tier companies, which he described as the “engines” of the conspiracies and the “epicentre” of the tax fraud, were Cranston and fellow fraudster Jason Onley, a former professional snowboarder who is to be sentenced on Tuesday afternoon.

The judge said a blackmail payment of almost $25 million in early 2017 was not made under duress, rather was made principally to avoid detection of the crimes.

The Crown alleged Cranston put funds from the fraud towards the purchase of Mercedes C63 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S cars, a “Kimberley Karavan”, Scania truck, Toyota LandCruiser, and a $240,000 deposit and loan repayments for a Cirrus SR22 single-engine plane.

Additionally, the Crown said Cranston put $1.5 million towards a house at Miranda, spent $1.2 million on a 58-hectare estate and associated renovations in Vacy, and $826,000 on a site with water views at Burraneer.

Crown prosecutor Rae Sharp, KC, had argued Cranston had “been in for a pound from the start”.

Cranston’s barrister John Stratton, SC, previously submitted his client had a detailed history of drug abuse, including suffering from cannabis use disorder, and that “for much of the time of the offending ... he was affected by substances”.

Cranston is the son of former ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, who is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Cranston’s school friend Patrick Willmott was jailed for a maximum of nine years, solicitor Dev Menon for 14 years and Lauren Cranston for eight years for their roles in the Plutus rort.

In January 2017, in one of 360 covert recordings gathered by federal police, Adam Cranston said, “if this was fully uncovered, and they knew exactly what was going on, it would be ‘f---ing Ben-Hur, man’.”

In that recording, Menon replied, “it would be the biggest tax fraud in Australia’s history”.

Cranston will be eligible for parole in March 2033.