A veteran crime journalist who won a long-running and crippling battle to clear his name is now attempting to be reimbursed for his nearly $500,000 in legal fees after he says prosecutor relied on a witness who told a “blizzard of lies”.
Former 60 Minutes and Channel 7 journalist Steve Barrett on Wednesday sat in the NSW Supreme Court surrounded by his lawyers and supporters for the final stretch of what has been a nightmare ordeal.
Last year, prosecutors dropped charges that he was part of an attempt to extort $5m from members of the $105m Plutus Payroll tax fraud syndicate.
He faced trial in the Supreme Court in 2022 however the jury was unable to reach a verdict.
He has persistently denied being involved in a scheme to blackmail members of the Plutus scheme, Australia’s biggest tax fraud.
Mr Barrett pleaded not guilty to making an unwarranted demand with menaces with intention to obtain a gain and has maintained he was chasing a story in line with his job.
After the charges were withdrawn, Mr Barrett described how the saga had “destroyed” his reputation.
Up until last year, he had been waiting for a retrial, which had been held up because members of the Plutus scheme were still going through the courts.
But his efforts to clear his name came at a cost – he subsequently revealed he had been forced to sell his home to pay his lawyer’s fees and was living on social security benefits.
He on Wednesday appeared in the Supreme Court in an effort to be reimbursed the almost $500,000 he paid to his lawyers to defend himself.
His barrister Dr Gregory Woods KC told Justice Natalie Adams on Wednesday the credibility of key witness Daniel Hausman had been destroyed when he gave conflicting evidence in subsequent Proceeds of Crime proceedings, accusing him of telling a “blizzard of lies”.
Mr Barrett says he only received $2000 from the attempted blackmailers, though the Crown contends he received a further $2000.
Mr Barrett says he was not aware of the $5m blackmail plot.
Dr Woods argued it was “inconsistent with common sense” that he would only receive $2000 to play a central role in such a scheme.
Hausman in 2021 pleaded guilty to making unwarranted demands with menace and dealing with the proceeds of crime.
He was sentenced to eight years in jail, with a non-parole period of six years.
Dr Woods argued that Hausman didn’t want Mr Barrett to publish a story, because it would have exposed his blackmail attempt.
“That wasn’t Mr Barrett’s intention, he was going to do what he did in the past, he wanted to get it on the front page of The Daily Telegraph or Channel 7 or Channel 9,” Dr Woods argued.
Dr Woods said that Mr Barrett may have been acting as a “cowboy journalist”, but not as a “criminal fraudster”.
He was overheard on police listening devices, during a meeting at a Sydney lawyer’s office, threatening to expose the members of the Plutus conspiracy, who siphoned off Pay As You Go tax to second-tier companies which was withheld from the ATO.
“He was shaking the tree, trying to get information,” Dr Woods argued.
Crown prosecutor Patricia McDonald argued it was reasonable to prosecute Mr Barrett and that decision was supported by other evidence, including telephone intercepts and a listening device.
“The crown relied on black and white evidence,” she said.
She argued that Mr Barrett was heard “strategising” with Hausman and parts of their conversations were contrary to claims he was acting as a journalist.
Ms McDonald also argued that Mr Barrett had delayed pursuing his investigation including after he was handed an affidavit by the blackmailers
Justice Adams on Wednesday raised the prospect that she might not be able to rule on the matter due to a jurisdictional issue because the charges were prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and not state authorities.