A former army major will spend four months behind bars for fraudulently claiming more than $90,000 in rental allowance from the Department of Defence.
Travis David Morgan Stephens pleaded guilty to dishonestly causing a loss and obtaining a financial advantage by deception from the Department in November last year after claiming rent payments for a Kingston property he actually owned.
Defence members can claim rental allowance if they are deployed to an area where they do not own or part-own property.
Stephens’ sentencing was originally delayed when it was suggested he could have an old brain injury that needed further investigation.
In handing down his sentence on Monday (5 December), ACT Supreme Court Justice David Mossop said subsequent investigations into Stephens’ cognitive function had found “some modest impairment in some areas of brain function”.
Possible incidents offered to the court as to when Stephens could have suffered a brain injury included sporting games, Defence training exercises, when he fell down a hill, when he had a weight dropped on his head, and when he was struck by lightning in 2006.
However, Justice Mossop said the “modest impairment” and discovery of other potential mental conditions “were not sufficient enough to prevent the offender from having a successful career in the army”.
He said while it was appropriate to give “some weight” to the conditions, Stephens had demonstrated “high-level functioning” before the frauds were committed.
Stephens purchased a Kingston apartment with his co-accused in 2011. During the process, he told his financial broker that he wanted his name left off documents “as it potentially restricts my rent entitlements from Defence and therefore decreases the level of repayments we’ll be making”.
He also made false representations to Defence he had been evicted from his previous rental at short notice and claimed $4400 from the Department to help with his move to the Kingston address.
Stephens successfully claimed rent allowance for the new property between 2011 and 2018, each time falsely stating he was renting the place from the co-accused and that he did not own a property in his posting location. These payments totalled $91,700.
At the time of sentencing, all the money had been paid back.
Justice Mossop noted Stephens’ “flagrant dishonesty” and more than six years of deceiving the Department of Defence was “motivated by greed, not need”.
He said the sentence needed to reflect some level of deterrence as the allowances system operated on the basis of honesty and there was a risk of “an attitude of laxity” developing should others not understand the seriousness of such offending.
However, he also accepted Stephens’ guilty plea entitled him to a discount, as well as descriptions of the offender as a “person of good character” and a “highly capable soldier” before the crimes were committed.
Stephens was sentenced to 16 months behind bars, to be suspended and replaced with a two-year good behaviour order after he served four months.