Former mayor's daughter loses fraud appeal
A DISTRICT Court judge has rejected a well known Northern Rivers woman's appeal over an embarrassing fraud conviction.
Belinda Catherine Nott, the daughter of former Lismore mayor Jeff Champion, was convicted for obtaining financial advantage by deception in Lismore Local Court and handed a 15 month suspended jail sentence in November last year.
Nott appealed the conviction, but District Court Judge Laura Wells yesterday upheld both the conviction and the sentence, characterising some of the 39-year-old mother of four's evidence as "completely implausible".
In June 2016 Nott had crafted two fake Commonwealth Bank payment receipts to pretend she had settled a long overdue debt of $5720 to a Lismore business, Sidewinder Advertising, which was incurred for advertising services for a business Nott co-owned with her husband, the Ballina Manor, and another business, Wilsons College student accommodation in Lismore.
Brett Watson, owner of Sidewinder Advertising, gave evidence in the Local Court that he had made "19 to 20" personal requests to Nott to pay the debt over about 12 months.
Eventually Nott on 9 June 2016 claimed to have paid the money via a cash deposit.
Nott then emailed Mr Watson the Commonwealth Bank payment receipts on June 17, 2016, more than a week after she claimed to have paid the debt on June 9.
But the money had never been deposited and the receipts were fake.
This sparked a police investigation, and Nott was eventually charged with one count of obtaining financial advantage by deception. She then tried to shift the blame to someone else.
When she was first formally interviewed on September 13 2016, Nott told police that she was never at the bank, and had in fact asked a staff member to deposit the cash, but couldn't remember who.
At first she blamed the bank, lodging a complaint with both CBA and the Financial Ombudsman about the "missing" transaction.
But in a second interview with police on October 18, Nott had a much stronger recollection that she had given the cash to a former employee to deposit.
This was Jacqueline Dussault, a Canadian backpacker who worked as a waitress and housekeeper for the Ballina Manor, and had no licence to drive in Australia, nor owned a car. Yet, according to Nott, she was asked to do the banking on June 9 in Lismore, 30km from Ballina.
Nott told the police in the interview Ms Dussault would sometimes come to Lismore from Ballina to personally collect her wages in cash and would then bank them into her own account in Lismore.
But giving evidence via video link in a hearing last October, Ms Dussault had claimed she had never done any banking for Nott, nor was she allowed to drive in Australia and mainly rode a bike around Ballina for transport.
She had only visited Lismore rarely while living and working in Ballina and her pay was put into her bank account via direct banking deposit, not cash.
Ultimately the court accepted Ms Dussault's evidence and rejected Nott's.
Judge Wells said it was a "quite serious episode" for the mother of four as "some planning and consideration must have gone into her acts".
"She deceived [Mr Watson] into believing something was true when it was false... that is the clear finding I make."
"She repeatedly misled him and the worst of it was she implicated a person [Ms Dussault] who was not involved."
Judge Wells said it was "completely implausible" that Ms Dussault would have as regularly as Nott claimed driven from Ballina to Lismore to have her wages paid for her in cash and then go about running errands for her.
She said it was extraordinary that the money owed to Sidewinder would be paid via a cash deposit, and also questioned why it took so long for her to produce the bank receipts.
Judge Wells also noted that Nott could not recall who deposited the money that day or "much about it all" in her first interview with police, yet this contrasted with her "excellent recall" in the second interview, a little over a month later.
Judge Wells also said it was inexplicable that Nott did not seek to question Ms Dussault over the missing payment.
In short, Judge Wells said Belinda Nott's evidence was "simply not acceptable, and not believable".
Despite Nott's clean prior record, she also upheld the sentence of 15 months suspended jail.
"I'm of the view... the threshold has been crossed and the sentence is appropriate," she concluded.