FAMILY FRAUD: James Andrew McFarlane, 34, left Ipswich Courthouse after a three year suspended jail sentence was imposed for his $103,000 fraud.
FAMILY FRAUD: James Andrew McFarlane, 34, left Ipswich Courthouse after a three year suspended jail sentence was imposed for his $103,000 fraud. Ross Irby

Son-in-law rips-off farmer in $100k fraud case

STRUGGLING with debt while trying to keep his own business afloat, James McFarlane stole blank cheques and forged the signature of his father-in-law to take $103,000.

It took a while for his wife's trusting dad, a Minden cattle farmer, to notice that his money was disappearing.

This week James Andrew McFarlane, 34, pleaded guilty in the District Court at Ipswich to committing fraud; stealing cheques that were the property of the NAB and Barry Neuendorf and uttering forged documents.

Crown prosecutor Cameron Wilkins said the offences occurred between July 2010 and December 29, 2011, at Minden and Toowoomba.

He said McFarlane had been sentenced in July 2013 at Toowoomba Magistrates Court for fraud and attempted fraud offences involving cheques between June and October, 2011.

The cheques worth $2750 had been dishonoured. McFarlane was convicted and fined.

Mr Wilkins said McFarlane lived with Mr Neuendorf at Minden. His father-in-law would sign blank cheques for McFarlane to then pay bills on his behalf.

However, McFarlane stole blank cheque leaves, forged Mr Neuendorf's signature and deposited the cheques in his own account.

"There was a total 17 cheques stolen, forged and money deposited totalling $103,000," Mr Wilkins said. The cheques had values of $2500 up to $10,000.

"In late 2011 Mr Neuendorf noticed funds in his account had been depleted, cheque leaves missing and bills not paid.

"McFarlane was confronted and said he would pay the money back."

McFarlane paid back $5450 before the payments stopped. His uncle made two payments for him of $10,000 and $10,500.

A total of $32,350 was repaid before the matter was reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which investigated.

National Australia Bank paid $113,000 compensation to Mr Neuendorf.

The Crown accepted some of the money taken by McFarlane was used to pay the bills of his father-in-law, but the actual amount was not known.

Mr Neuendorf believes he is still out of pocket, including interest, by between $20,000 and $30,000.

The matter was not reported to police until September 2013 and charges laid in April 2016.

Mr Neuendorf spoke of the ongoing effects, how he'd been unable to pay his bills, not able to buy cattle, his power was cut off, he has bad credit, believes others think badly of him and suffered loss of sleep due to anxiety.

Defence barrister Scott Neaves said McFarlane fell into offending because of his own financial difficulties and some were for the benefit of Mr Neuendorf.

He was a qualified diesel mechanic, had his own business but went through bankruptcy in 2013.

His offences, to some degree, had been to help prop up his failing business.

While working for another business McFarlane suffered a serious workplace accident that caused him significant physical issues and ongoing pain.

Judge Dennis Lynch QC said it was clear his business had been under financial stress and he directed most of the money in an attempt to head off financial difficulties.

Although he'd made efforts to pay back the money, injuries he suffered in a work accident had a debilitating physical effect and led to psychological impairment.

Judge Lynch said significant physical difficulties would make jail more onerous.

Finding it was not a case of greed, Judge Lynch sentenced McFarlane to three years jail, immediately suspended for three years.