SYDNEY, Australia - A massive fraud involving millions of dollars has been uncovered in Australia's largest city, resulting in the arrest of six people on Wednesday.
Five of the 6 appeared before the Sydney Central Local Court Wednesday afternoon, after being taken into custody earlier in the day. They had been arrested in four different homes in the Western Sydney suburbs of Lurnea and Liverpool and are accused of preying on disabled people.
The five, and a sixth person who will appear before a court at a later time, are charged with defrauding the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) of millions of dollars.
Wednesday's arrests are the result of a six-month investigation by the NDIS Fraud Taskforce, comprising members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the Department of Human Services (DHS). The investigation was supported by the AFP hosted Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
Taskforce investigators alleged in court that three registered NDIS providers controlled and exploited by those arrested fraudulently claimed more than $1.1 million in NDIS payments from more than seventy people on disability plans, or those managing their affairs.
Investigations into the true scale of the fraud are continuing, with more than 100 other potential victims identified through the three entities controlled by this syndicate – Universal Group Australia Pty Ltd, Reliance Disability Services and United Mission.
The three entities are believed to have received more than $2.6 million in NDIS payments since December 2017. Further enquiries, authorities say, are required to determine whether these payments are legitimate or fraudulent.
It is also suspected that syndicate members applied to register another four entities as NDIS-providers to claim payments.
The AFP also seized three vehicles – a Porsche Cayenne, an Audi A3 and Mercedes E63 – suspected of being purchased with funds fraudulently obtained by syndicate members.
"This is an organised criminal activity preying on those that society has chosen to help– it took money directly out of the pockets of NDIS participants, reducing their ability to obtain crucial assistance and services to help them lead their lives," AFP Acting Commander Mark McIntyre, Manager Criminal Assets and Fraud and Anti-Corruption said Wednesday afternoon.
"Unfortunately this is not an isolated case, and we will continue to work with our taskforce partners to identify those preying on our needy and bring them to account for their selfish and despicable actions."
Acting CEO of the NDIA, Vicki Rundle, said the NDIS Fraud Taskforce was a partnership with a focus on high-risk and serious criminal activity targeting the NDIS.
"The NDIA is committed to working with families impacted by alleged fraud and ensuring they have their funds reinstated in their plans where appropriate," she said Wednesday.
"We want to make it clear that fraud of the NDIS will not be tolerated. The NDIA takes the matter of fraud very seriously and will continue to invest in our capability to continue to identify attempts to defraud the scheme."
The Department of Human Services also has an important role in the NDIS Fraud Taskforce, providing expert capability to detect and investigate organised criminal networks that seek to take advantage of vulnerable members of the community.
Those arrested Wednesday comprise a 40-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman from Lurnea; a 27-year-old man, 30-year-old man and 27-year-old woman from Liverpool; and a 22-year-old woman whose origin was not known at the time of writing.