Husband and wife in fake construction industry trade certificate fraud
The Sunday Morning Herald has reported that Cameron Russell, 55 and wife Fay, 52, were extradited to NSW earlier this month before they were charged over the scheme, which allegedly issued fake certificates in trades such as building, electrotechnology, gas fittings, air-conditioning and refrigeration.
It is estimated hundreds of fake qualifications may have been issued through the scheme, raising concerns about the potential number of unqualified people currently working on construction sites around Sydney.
The couple, believed to be the ringleaders of the scheme, were among nine people arrested and charged over the alleged construction industry fraud, which has been under investigation by the Organised Crime Squad 's Money Laundering Unit and the NSW Crime Commission since June.
Both Mr and Mrs Russell have been charged with multiple offences including making false documents to influence the exercise of public duty, dealing with $125,000 in proceeds of crime and participating in a criminal group. It is alleged the married couple utilised training organisation Daily Update Pty Ltd - trading as Green Skills Australia - of which Mr Russell is the director, to issue the fraudulent certificates.
Mr Russell is alleged to have signed off on the qualifications for them to be accepted as genuine, so as to influence the NSW Department of Fair Trading.
"Certificate IV in Building and Construction," "Certificate III in Gas Fitting" and "Certificate in Electrotechnology Electrician," were among some of the qualifications issued, as seen in court documents on Wednesday.
Another man charged over the fraud scheme, 49-year-old Ekrem Ahmic, was arrested on December 4 outside a home in Sylvania, where investigators seized $58,000, business documents, electronic devices and nunchucks. He was charged with participating in the same criminal group as Mr and Mrs Russell, dealing in proceeds of crime, publishing and making false material, and possessing prohibited weapons and false documents. Police will allege Mr and Mrs Russell and Mr Ahmic provided forged documents for a fee, so people could avoid completing compulsory theory and practical assessments.
A further five men have been charged with allegedly possessing a false document to influence the exercise of public duty, all of whom were recipients of fake qualifications. They were among at least 12 people who received fraudulent qualifications as a result of the scheme, which was allegedly conducted in Brunswick West in Victoria, where Mr and Mrs Russell live.
During raids at the Russells' home, and a business address in Queensland, strike force detectives seized forged certificates, computers, and financial documents.
A spokesman for the Department of Fair Trading said it was aware of the investigation into alleged fraud and forgery in the construction industry and was reviewing the matter.
In a statement to the Herald, a spokeswoman for the Australian Skills Quality Authority confirmed the training registration of Daily Update - trading as Green Skills Australia - was cancelled in June 2015, following "critical non-compliances with assessment practices." She said ASQA officers had "assisted police investigators" in NSW, Victoria and Queensland and provided evidence and intelligence to support the police investigation.
Green Skills Australia has previously been identified as one of the training colleges to benefit from the scandal-ridden VET FEE-HELP scheme, under which training colleges could access millions of dollars in government subsidies to encourage student enrolments.