Aspiring Olympian's COVID-19 grant rort

A budding Olympian created 18 fake businesses in an attempt to steal $180,000 from a COVID-19 business grant program.

Jackson Stern, 27, faced Melbourne's County Court on Wednesday, where he was sentenced to community work for rorting a scheme to support businesses struggling through the pandemic.

He pleaded guilty to six charges, including obtaining financial advantage by deception and furnishing false information.

Stern developed a passion for equestrian riding while at high school and went on to compete internationally at the age of 19.

By 2019, he was training two mares to compete in the Olympics.

However, his regional Victorian equestrian training and competition business took a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Stern lodged dozens of applications to the government's business support fund between March and April 2020, the court was told.

The fund provided small businesses will one-off payments of $10,000 to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

After his first two applications to the scheme were rejected, he registered 18 fake businesses and made another 25 applications for the grant using false information.

Stern provided fake business activity statements and other documents to support the applications, which included false information on employees, wages, payroll and turnover.

He also gave false answers when asked on the applications to specify how COVID-19 impacted the businesses.

One of the businesses, the Stern Family Trust, was once operated by his father but had been dormant since July 2017.

Stern claimed the company, which he declared was an indoor sports and coaching business, had made $600 in sales but had been "forced to go into temporary hibernation" due to restrictions.

Overall, he successfully obtained $20,000 in grants. He had attempted to get up to $180,000 from the fake applications, but most were rejected.

Stern said his offending was a panicked response to protect his horses' livelihood.

But Judge John Kelly was critical of Stern's multiple attempts to deplete a "finite pool of resources" set up to help struggling businesses.

"You deliberately rorted a benevolent scheme established by the state government during a time of crisis and that makes your offending generally serious," he said.

"This fund was created to alleviate hardship ... Dishonest depletion of its finite reserve hurts everyone who hoped to make an honest claim during a time of great stress."

Mr Kelly said Stern felt shame and embarrassment over the offending and found he had good rehabilitation prospects.

He handed Stern a two-year community correction order.