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Plutus Payroll scammers plead case ahead of sentencing

Regulation

With three of their co-conspirators in the $105m fraud already jailed, two “principal players” make final submissions.

By Naomi Neilson 10 minute read

Two principal players behind the Plutus Payroll scheme have made final submissions ahead of sentencing, including claims they were less responsible for the $105 million ATO theft than convicted founder Simon Anquetil and lawyer-accountant Dev Menon.

Adam Cranston, 36, the son of former deputy tax commissioner Michael Cranston, and professional snowboarder Jason Onley, 53, appeared in the NSW Supreme Court on Wednesday (16 August) to make various submissions about their culpability and remorse.

Both men were involved in a scam designed to funnel funds meant for wages, tax and superannuation into side companies directed by vulnerable and often drug-addicted people. The money was sourced from legitimate clients who were attracted to the fee-free service. 

Through his counsel, Mr Cranston said he was “ashamed and disappointed for the pain I caused” and admitted he spent his childhood feeling like a “disappointment” to his father. There was no suggestion Michael Cranston was involved in the scheme.

Mr Cranston also submitted through his counsel that he felt “trapped” and was often “deliberately kept in the dark” by co-conspirators.

Crown prosecutor Raelene Sharp disputed this, telling the court Mr Cranston had decided he was “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

“He’d been in for a pound from the start,” Ms Sharp said. “He made a conscious decision to participate in the offending.”

Although Mr Cranston’s counsel submitted he should be judged of lower culpability than Mr Anquetil – the CEO and founder of the Plutus Payroll company who was jailed for seven-and-a-half years – Ms Sharp said he was at least on the same level.

Justice Anthony Payne acknowledged that unlike Mr Anquetil, Mr Cranston had been responsible for the second-tier companies, which he said were the “real engine” of the scheme.

Comparing Mr Cranston’s offending to that of Mr Menon, Justice Payne said the lawyer-accountant might have been involved for a shorter period but he was a solicitor and “there was much to be said for that”, specifically around community trust.

Ms Sharp also disputed Mr Onley’s submission that his involvement was driven in large part by blackmail threats from an outlaw motorcycle group who had become aware of the scheme. She said the threats were made seven months after evidence suggested Mr Onley became involved in the scam.

His defence lawyer accepted Mr Onley was a principal player but said he was “on the lowest rung” in terms of hierarchy.

There were also suggestions Mr Onley was the victim of “friendly fire” from co-conspirators who sought to “throw him under the bus” by making his role sound bigger.

Ms Sharp had suggested there was a conversation between Mr Cranston and Mr Menon that placed Mr Onley “above Mr Cranston” in terms of responsibility, but Justice Payne dismissed this.

“There was a lot of throwing Mr Onley under the bus by those two,” Justice Payne said.

Mr Cranston’s sister, Lauren Cranston, has been jailed for five years for her role while childhood friend Patrick Wilmont received six years. Mr Menon was recently jailed for at least nine years.

Mr Cranston and Mr Menon will be sentenced next Tuesday.

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