A flamboyant Kiwi fraudster who defrauded the Queensland
Government of A$16 million ($20 million) has been sentenced
to 14 years in an Australian prison.
Former Brisbane socialite Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, who grew up
in Thames, has admitted systematically stealing the money
while working for Queensland Health.
Morehu-Barlow, who was also known as Joel Barlow, pleaded
guilty to eight charges relating to fraud and drug offences
when he appeared in the Brisbane District Court today.
His offending, the largest ever fraud against the state
government, funded an extravagant lifestyle that made
Morehu-Barlow one of Brisbane's fashionable high flyers.
He told people he was a Tahitian prince and his lavish
lifestyle was the result of a regular allowance from his
Morehu-Barlow used his stolen millions to accumulate loot
including a A$5 million luxury waterfront home, two
Mercedes-Benz sports cars, an Audi A4, a baby grand piano and
an extravagant collection of Louis Vuitton goods worth
hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He was arrested in December 2011 at his newly-bought Brisbane
mansion. At the time, police said they had frozen A$12
million worth of assets.
Morehu-Barlow started work for Queensland Health in 2005. He
made 62 fraudulent transactions with a total value of
A$16,690,067.57 to his private bank account between 2008 and
his arrest in 2011.
His senior role meant he knew how grants were paid to charity
groups. He used this knowledge to funnel money into a fake
charity called Filling the Gap he set up in 2008.
Morehu-Barlow forged documents purporting to be from the
office of two separate health ministers to make the
transactions appear legitimate.
A final transfer of A$11 million at the end of 2011 sparked a
Crown prosecutor Todd Fuller told the court today that
Morehu-Barlow had already spent more than A$12 million of his
stolen funds and described his spending behaviour as
"He used [the stolen money] to fund an opulent lifestyle,
provide lavish gifts and support a persona he had created for
himself as a wealthy Tahitian prince required to work to
obtain his inheritance,'' Mr Fuller said.
Police found Morehu-Barlow unconscious on a bed at his
newly-bought apartment on December 12, 2011. He was treated
by paramedics who believed he was affected by drugs,
including P and ecstasy, found at his home.
Defence barrister David Shepherd said Morehu-Barlow was the
oldest of six children. The suicide of one of his brothers in
2007 had a "profound effect'' on Morehu-Barlow, Mr Shepherd
"He felt guilty for not realising the extent of his brother's
depression. That sense of failure played on his own mind for
some months and as a consequence his drug use increased. He
then resorted to this offending.''
Stealing from Queensland Health was "perhaps a way of
alleviating those feelings of guilt", Mr Shepherd said.
Judge Kerry O'Brien said Morehu-Barlow's conduct was "the
most serious breach'' of the trust placed on him in his role
at Queensland Health.
"This was an audacious scheme, which involved the
manipulation of the grants scheme for ministerial support for
charities and other community groups, to obtain an opulent
and extravagant lifestyle [and] a way for you to ingratiate
yourself to other people,'' Judge O'Brien said.
"Your dishonesty only ceased with police involvement.
Fortunately ... some of the money has been recovered.''
- By Kieran Campbell of APNZ in Brisbane