Ex-ATO boss’ daughter jailed for $105m fraud

Lauren Cranston during the trial of Plutus Payroll syndicate that allegedly defrauded $140 million dollars from the Commonwealth. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

The daughter of a former tax office deputy commissioner and young mum will spend at least five years behind bars after she was sentenced for her role in an $105 million tax fraud conspiracy.

Lauren Ann Cranston and four others were found guilty of conspiring to cause loss to the Commonwealth following a mammoth nine-month trial at the NSW Supreme Court last year.

The tax fraud scheme ran between 2014 and 2017 and centred around Plutus Payroll, a tax company belonging to Cranston’s brother Adam Cranston, who masterminded the operation.

Plutus Payroll purported to provide pay as you go (PAYG) and GST tax services to its clients, but was instead used to syphon monies intended for the ATO through eight “second-tier” companies.

The court heard Adam Cranston used the money to fund his lavish lifestyle, including properties, cars, a boat, and a plane.

Lauren Cranston has been sentenced for her role in an $105 million tax fraud conspiracy.. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

Cranston, meanwhile, used more $100,000 for down-payment on a Picton home.

In sentencing, Justice Anthony Payne told the court Cranston had become aware of the fraud scheme no later than early-2015, and was involved initially in payroll services for the “second-tier” companies.

“Cranston was not an instigator nor an architect, and operated under instruction,” Justice Payne said.

“While I accept she was young and lacking professional qualifications, on all the evidence it is clear she had a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of the tax obligations of the second-tier companies.”

Adam Cranston arrives at the Supreme Court in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles

The court heard Cranston helped transfer money to unrelated companies secretly owned by the co-offenders, or later back to Plutus to give the appearance the company was meeting its legal obligations.

From early-2016, Cranston became more involved in the operation and participated in meetings between the co-offenders secretly recorded by police, during which the details of the fraud were discussed.

In one meeting, Cranston discussed helping to “cover her brother’s tracks” by producing fraudulent invoices and credit reports.

“I’ll just copy what I did before,” she said.

The mother-of-one also helped liase with “dummy” directors hired by the co-accused to manage the second-tier companies, many of whom had no qualifications or experience.

In one instance, Cranston was required to move money between accounts because she was concerned one of the directors would make a withdrawal.

“You can’t just move a f*****g mil,” she told another person, referring to one million dollars.

Justice Payne told the court Cranston had been motivated by a “misguided sense of loyalty” to her brother, and had continued to maintain the innocence of all co-accused throughout the trial.

He sentenced Cranston to two prison terms of four and six years, with a non-parole period of five years.

Australian Federal Police first uncovered the fraud scheme with assistance from the ATO in 2017 and charged three other associates: Dev Menon, Jason Onley, and Patrick Willmot.

Cranston and her brother are the children of former ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston.

Michael Cranston was found not guilty following a trial at the Sydney District Court in 2019 of allegedly providing ATO information to his son. He is not accused of wrongdoing.

Adam Cranston, and co-accused Dev Menon, Jason Onley, and Patrick Willmot will reappear before the Sydney Supreme Court for hearing on May 4.