Delays amid squabble for $50k legal fees in $105m fraud
A man who siphoned $105 million from taxpayers in one of the most serious tax frauds ever prosecuted in Australia cannot be sentenced until commonwealth and state authorities decide who will pay about $50,000 in legal fees.
A judge has warned he will consider what steps are available to the court if the dispute is not settled, "however unpalatable" they may be.
Adam Cranston was an architect of the Plutus Payroll conspiracy, which funnelled money away from the tax office for years while his father, cleared of wrongdoing in 2019, was the deputy commissioner.
Younger sister Lauren was also in on the scam and was jailed for at least five years earlier in May.
His childhood friend Patrick Willmott was jailed for at least six years on Friday.
Described by Cranston on covert recordings as the "Ben Hur" of tax fraud, Plutus Payroll diverted at least $105 million from government coffers through a web of second-tier companies directed on paper by vulnerable people who did not understand them.
The 36-year-old son of former deputy tax commissioner Michael Cranston was found guilty of conspiring to commit tax fraud and money laundering along with four others in March.
It came after what Justice Anthony Payne described as "one of the most serious federal tax fraud trials successfully prosecuted in this country".
Unable to afford a lawyer or represent himself, Cranston received commonwealth financial assistance since May 2021.
That ended after the marathon nine-month trial established his guilt to a jury who have been relieved of sitting on another panel for 20 years.
NSW LegalAid has now been asked to step in and provide him a grant, as it has for the other conspirators.
Justice Payne was "flabbergasted" on Thursday when he learned Cranston would not receive further commonwealth assistance.
He ordered transcripts of that hearing, covering the periods he was not "lost for words", be sent to the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus' office and NSW LegalAid.
The latter responded ahead of Tuesday's hearing to say it received an application but will not be able to make a decision until June.
A letter sent to Cranston's solicitor by the Attorney-General's Department tendered in court on Tuesday and seen by AAP revealed $16,363.60 was granted on a retrospective basis for a senior barrister to attend court in February.
However, a further $49,172.88 was disallowed for not meeting "the purpose of the special circumstance scheme".
Cranston requires funding for some legal fees, psychiatric reports, and a senior barrister and solicitor to prepare for and attend his sentencing.
"So this entire debate is about whether the commonwealth or state should pay about $40,000?" the judge said.
He added the cost could blow out exponentially if a switch to state-funded legal assistance required briefing new counsel on the lengthy trial.
Cranston's crimes involved serious breaches of federal law, but were prosecuted in NSW courts, the judge said.
Money intended for the government instead went on exotic cars, properties, and other assets seized following Cranston's arrest.
The judge is "anxious" to sentence Cranston as soon as practicable "to send a message to others who might be tempted to steal from the tax system", which may be diluted by further delays, he said.
The NSW Supreme Court will hear whether legal funding has been provided on June 13.