$110k travel swindler avoids time behind bars

$110k travel swindler avoids time behind bars

Former Flight Centre manager Vanessa Barrett leaves the NT Supreme Court after being handed a 15 month suspended sentence for swindling the Pensioner Travel Concession Scheme.

CROOKED former Flight Centre middle manager Vanessa Barrett was handed a 15-month suspended sentence in the Supreme Court on Monday, as the latest travel agent punished over defrauding the Territory Government’s pensioner travel concession scheme.

The $110,000 figure on Barrett’s crimes puts her nearly on par with notorious scammer Xana Kamitsis.

Barrett, 45, wept in the dock when she realised she would not have to serve actual jail time for her offending, which took place over more than two years.

Her former employer, Flight Centre, was by far the largest beneficiary of a widespread scam in which agents overstated the cost of flights purchased for pensioners but charged to government.

Justice Graham Hiley said Barrett only benefited about $10,000 from her offending in the form of bonus payments, with the rest going to Flight Centre.

The multinational company has repaid around $1.8 million pilfered from Territory coffers through the scheme.

During the period of her offending, the court heard, Flight Centre Palmerston branch Barrett managed was awarded with internal accolades and awards for its sales success.

Justice Hiley said Barrett’s sentence needed to send a message to other would-be white collar criminals, and that Barrett herself was unlikely to reoffend.

But he rejected Crown Prosecutor David Morters’s claim that Barrett’s offending was as bad as Kamitsis’s.

Kamitsis, Justice Hiley said, was the sole director and shareholder of her agency, Latitude Travel, while Barrett only received a fraction of the money she swindled from the taxpayer.

Kamitsis also rorted the scheme over five years instead of Barrett’s two-and-a-half.

“Whilst each individual transaction was fairly small … the fact that there were so many transactions makes your offending more serious,” he said.

“Offending of this kind affects many victims, not only taxpayers, but also older people, whose benefits under schemes such as this may be reduced or cancelled as a result of this kind of activity.”

Originally published as $110k travel swindler avoids time behind bars