In news that has come as no surprise to many in the political sphere, former Health Services Union boss Kathy Jackson recently pleaded guilty to obtaining financial advantage by deception and stealing nearly $70,000 from the Union.
Following negotiations between prosecutors and her criminal defence lawyers, Ms Jackson admitted that she fraudulently obtained $67,792.85 between July 2003 and November 2010.
The charges related to misappropriating union funds for groceries, travel, entertainment and even her divorce.
However, many are claiming this is a ‘sweetheart deal', as the Federal Court had previously found that she owed the union $2.4m.
The Judge who will oversee her sentencing has already declared that she will not face jail time, unlike others who have been guilty of serious fraud.
Court documents revealed that Jackson claimed a number of personal transactions as union-related expenses.
She was originally charged with 169 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception. This was then reduced to 70 charges.
Twenty-one of those charges were put before a jury last year.
A pattern of behaviour?
In 2019 she went to Trial on 21 charges of obtaining financial advantage and property by deception and theft. The total value of the fraud was alleged to be $360,000.
She was found guilty by a jury of two of those charges but found ‘not guilty' of the remaining 18.
The jury found that Jackson used $22,000 of the union's funds in 2008 to purchase a Mercedes Benz.
They also found that she claimed $13,100 for travel reimbursements from the union for travel and accommodation during a trip to the United States. This was ostensibly a holiday rather than a business trip.
The Court had previously imposed a ‘non-publication' order in relation to those convictions for similar fraud offences.
She was due to proceed to trial on the remaining 48 charges this year before negotiations between prosecutors and her lawyers resulted in a number of the charges being withdrawn.
No jail for fraud charges
Despite the immense breach of trust and significant sum of money Jackson defrauded from the union, she is unlikely to receive a jail sentence.
Judge Mandy Fox, who will preside over the sentencing proceedings indicated that she would not impose a jail term.
Jackson will be sentenced on four counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception. This comprises of the two matters she pleaded guilty to and the two previous matters she was found guilty of after a jury trial.
The total value associated with the sequences is $102,892. Jackson obtained this amount by misusing credit cards and deceiving the HSU's management regarding what travel and personal expenses she was entitled to.
Avoiding jail for complex fraud offences when you have excellent legal representation is not uncommon. There have been a number of recent examples of people either beating fraud charges or avoiding jail. Having the best criminal lawyers for fraud offences will go a long way towards this.
Whistle-blower to convicted criminal
Between 2008 and 2015, Jackson was the union's national secretary.
Many Liberal party members including Tony Abbot threw their support behind her after she made similar allegations against her predecessor, former Labor MP Craig Thomson, as well as former union secretary Michael Williamson.
The Thomson case garnered significant attention. He was ultimately fined $25,000 after being found guilty of 13 counts of fraud.
Williamson received a far harsher penalty. He was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining almost $1m from the union and encouraging others to hinder police.
When news of her conviction broke, Mr Thomson pulled no punches, saying:
“I've remained consistent in my feelings towards Kathy Jackson for a long time: she's a corrupt, vile individual, who should have focused on union workers, rather than destroying other people's careers and reputations.”
After the Federal Court judgement, Jackson declared bankruptcy. This of course meant that she did not have to repay the $2.4 million that she had obtained from the Union.
Her successor at the HSU (now known as VAHPA), Colin McGregor said:
“Kathy Jackson is a thief and a liar. Not only has she pleaded guilty to ripping off members of the HSU Victoria No 3 Branch, better known as VAHPA, but she has previously been ordered to repay some $1.4 million to the Union — with interest and costs that is around 3 million bucks. It's time for Kathy to do the right thing and give the members their money back.”
Dishonestly Obtaining Financial Advantage By Deception
Fraud in New South Wales falls under the charge of ‘Obtaining financial advantage or property by deception' pursuant to Section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
The definition of fraud is acting dishonestly to cause a financial advantage or disadvantage.
In order for you to be found guilty of obtaining financial advantage by deception charges, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- You received property or a financial advantage, OR
- You caused a financial loss, AND
- The gain or loss was caused by your actions, AND
- Those actions were dishonest. Dishonesty is to be assessed according to standards of ordinary people and requires you to know your actions to be dishonest according to those standards. If an Accused's dishonest actions were not the main cause of the gain or loss then the charge will be dismissed.
You can read further about ‘Obtaining financial advantage or property by deception' here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.