Former Accountant Fuels Gambling Addiction with a Million Dollar Fraud
In a shocking revelation, former accountant James Redmond Burrows confessed to defrauding his clients and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) of over $1.4 million, all to feed his crippling gambling addiction.
The 113 charges against him were read aloud individually in the Supreme Court in Launceston, where he ultimately pled guilty.
The court heard that from November 2015 to February 2020, Burrows manipulated funds intended for his clients and funneled them into an account he dubbed his "fraud account." As the sole owner of JRB Accounting in Launceston, he had unrestricted access to his clients' online banking systems, which enabled him to carry out the deceit.
According to prosecutor Simone Wilson's statement, Burrows cunningly withheld his clients' income tax returns and GST tax refunds, diverting the money into his fraudulent account to fuel his gambling addiction. Shockingly, he even used some of the funds to pay the tax obligations of other unsuspecting clients, making the scope of his deception even more extensive.
Some businesses bore the brunt of Burrows' fraudulent activities, losing nearly $300,000. As suspicion grew, he admitted his guilt to some clients, confessing,
I've been gambling, I've been stealing money, I've been ripping you off for a long, long time.
Brazen and Quick Fraud
He also admitted to being $800,000 in debt due to reckless gambling on horses, sports, greyhounds, and casinos.
Burrows' actions extended beyond fraudulent income tax and business tax claims. He deceitfully claimed money on behalf of his clients for which they weren't eligible, such as franking credit dividends, or directly stole from their accounts, falsely presenting it as legitimate expenses.
One of Burrows' clients and friends, Kate Gibson, discovered the deception and immediately changed her online banking login details and accountants. Despite this, he brazenly attempted to extract more money from her account shortly thereafter, stating that he would have "cleaned her out" if she hadn't acted promptly.
Eventually, Burrows turned himself in to Tasmania Police, admitting that he had been "robbing Peter to pay Paul." However, he initially pleaded not guilty after being charged. The prosecution presented heart-wrenching victim impact statements in court, revealing the devastating consequences of Burrows' actions. Clients who relied on their tax returns faced financial hardships, including the inability to afford critical medical treatments.
Prosecutor Simone Wilson emphasized that the accused displayed "sustained, deliberate, and calculated" behavior and made no efforts to repay his clients or the ATO. The prosecution sought full restitution of the fraudulently obtained funds to the affected individuals.
Failure in Battling Addiction
Burrows's lawyer, Cameron Scott, acknowledged his client's heinous abuse of trust as a chartered accountant and conveyed his deep remorse. He revealed that Burrows had battled severe gambling addiction since childhood, influenced by his family members' regular betting practices.
Justice Robert Pearce questioned the sincerity of Burrows's remorse, given the psychologist's report suggesting that he struggled with severe gambling addiction. The report indicated that Burrows had been suicidal in 2019, but he had been abstinent since April 1, 2023.
The court will continue sentencing submissions on Tuesday. The case highlights the devastating consequences of unchecked gambling addiction and serves as a cautionary tale of the harm that financial professionals can inflict when their integrity is compromised.