A former Western Bay of Plenty District Council accountant who falsely obtained $23,508 of GST refunds and attempted to get his former partner to lie for him has been jailed for two years.
Francis Faima Lavatai Sheppard, 43, who earlier pleaded guilty to 14 counts of providing false information to obtain GST refunds and one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice, was sentenced in Tauranga District Court yesterday.
The later count relates to Sheppard asking his former partner, a witness in the Crown prosecution case, to lie for him and take the blame for him at his jury trial in October.
Judge Peter Rollo also ordered Sheppard to repay only $12,000 to IRD, after he learned that Sheppard still owed around $80,000 reparation to Carter Holt Harvey - the victim of his 1998 fraud conviction that related to him stealing $114,000 while working for the company.
It was a conviction Sheppard had hidden from Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
The GST fraud charges brought by Inland Revenue relate to Sheppard's company, Lavatai Investments Ltd, which he operated in Auckland between April 2006 and July 2007, prior to his shift to Tauranga.
Sheppard began his full-time accountant's job with council on December 3, 2007.
Between September 1, 2007 and December 31, 2009, he filed GST returns for his former company returning $21,870 of income and $253,745 of expenses.
This resulted in GST refunds owed for the company totalling $25,764 of which all were paid by Inland Revenue except for the December 31 refund which was withheld.
Outstanding reparation to IRD stands at $23,508.28.
When confronted Sheppard told Inland Revenue that he had financial issues, including debts.
Sheppard originally pleaded not guilty to the tax fraud charges but changed his plea on the day the jury trial was due to start in the Tauranga District Court on October 15.
The change of pleas came after police filed the attempting to pervert the course of justice charge.
The police summary of facts reveals that about a week before his trial Sheppard made contact with his former partner saying he needed to talk with her and to have lunch with his two daughters.
After meeting for lunch on October 9 he gave her a typed two-page document and said: "Read through this and let me know what you think, maybe you could help me out."
The document contained instructions for her on what to say at his trial in an effort to assist him and be acquitted on the charges. It would have meant she was taking the blame for his dishonesty.
He told her not to discuss the document with anyone, but the woman informed police.
Crown prosecutor Hayley Sheridan said Sheppard's offending struck at the heart of the integrity of the court justice system, and despite his prior fraud conviction and the $80,000 reparation he still owed he should be made to pay back the money he stole from IRD.
Sheppard's lawyer Bill Nabney said his client who was remorseful and accepted two cumulative prison sentences were inevitable. But Mr Nabney argued the gravity of the offences fell into the lower end for these types of matters, and urged the judge to keep the jail sentence under two years and not to order reparation.
Judge Peter Rollo said he agreed that is was gross breach of trust.
The judge said: "In my view, Mr Sheppard, this was very blatant, deliberate and premeditated offending by someone who clearly had the technical qualifications and experience to know the tax system well and the requirement to act with honesty of purpose."
Judge Rollo said the amount stolen might not be significant, but Sheppard's attempt to get his former partner to lie for him was a clear demonstration of his criminality.
He said at very least Sheppard should pay back half the money he stole at $30 a week.
Western Bay of Plenty District Council chief executive Glenn Snelgrove was approached for comment by the Bay of Plenty Times. "It's disappointing, the whole saga," he said.
Mr Snelgrove said he had been unaware of Sheppard's past fraud conviction until it was recently drawn to council's attention.
Sheppard used a number of aliases that weren't disclosed to council and despite "quite rigorous" reference and background checks it failed to pick up his criminal history, he said.
Mr Snelgrove said despite Sheppard's role it did not expose council to risk, as he was not involved in the receipt of money nor did he have any financial delegations.