Charges dismissed in Austudy fraud

LISMORE salesman Nathan Hallahan, 34, who pleaded not guilty to two counts of Commonwealth fraud in Austudy overpayments arguing it was not done intentionally, won his case with a Lismore Local Court magistrate dismissing the charges without conviction after it was revealed he had already repaid the $7000.

Defence lawyer Gary Hooper, in a three-hour hearing before magistrate Robyn Denes, argued his client had not known he had to declare the income he received working as a casual security guard while completing a digital film course in 2004.

Central to Hallahan's defence argument was that a Centrelink employee in the Byron Bay office told him he could earn $250 a week without it affecting his Austudy payments. In finalising the matter, Ms Denes said she did not find Hallahan had been lying but his belief he had not earned enough to declare the income had been misguided.

She did not find it had been deliberate or fraudulent, but found that, once Hallahan received the money, it became 'very handy to him'. He had stated he was living like a pauper.

Ms Denes said if it was his belief (about not having to declare his income) then it was a 'mistaken belief based on an inaccurate assumption'.

And although Hallahan stated the government taxation and Centrelink computers 'shared' information, Ms Denes said he had not put his tax file number on the Austudy/Centrelink documents.

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