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The ringleader of a seven-year, multimillion-dollar conspiracy to defraud taxpayers and rig the awarding of public transport contracts to himself and his corrupt colleague has been sentenced to almost nine years in jail.
Public servant Barry Wells pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the public of at least $3.7 million, in a scam described by Supreme Court Justice John Dixon as "corruption that strikes at the very heart of democracy".
He will be eligible for parole after six years and three months at the earliest, for a series of white-collar crimes described in sentencing remarks as "fraud on a grand scale".
Wells, 51, used his senior position in Victoria's transport bureaucracy to funnel at least $17 million in contracts to family-linked businesses he and a colleague controlled.
The pair splurged profits of at least $3.7 million on two properties in the Philippines, luxury goods including jet skis and a baby grand piano, and home renovations among other things.
The "increasingly sophisticated" conspiracy went undetected for seven years between 2006 and 2013, under the noses of colleagues and departmental heads, before ultimately being detected in 2014.
Wells was a manager of civil works in Victoria's former Department of Transport, and later in Public Transport Victoria, while he was mastermind of the scam.
Albert Ooi was sentenced to eight years in jail for conspiracy to defraud and taking a secret commission Photo: Michael Clayton-JonesHe used his position to corruptly award tenders for dozens of valuable contracts to family connected businesses, shutting out other would-be competitors.
The jobs included the construction of hundreds of bus stops and shelters across the state, railway station car parks and tactile surfaces.
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Dixon said Wells used his position in charge of awarding department contracts to funnel millions of dollars in civil works to businesses he controlled.
The fraud was "motivated by personal greed" and abused the faith the community places in public servants to spend taxpayer dollars in the public interest, the Supreme Court heard on Monday.
"You consistently failed to declare conflicts of interest," Justice Dixon said.
Wells pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to defraud and three charges of receiving secret commissions.
Wells was expressionless as his sentence was handed down, before being placed in handcuffs and led away to begin his prison term.
Wells' co-conspirator, Albert Ooi, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to defraud and was sentenced to eight years' jail, with a non-parole period of six years, for his equal part in the scam.
Prosecutors said Ooi provided a "full, frank and valuable account" of the conspiracy, which assisted their investigation.
Michael De La Torre, a son of Ooi and "a key figure at the bottom of a sophisticated conspiracy", was also previously sentenced to a three-year community corrections order for his part in the scam.
He colluded in the corrupt awarding of 31 contracts valued at almost $4 million.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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