A former Taralga resident has been sentenced to three years behind bars for defrauding the owner of a Bigga farm that he had been managing.
Fifty-six year old Mark Anthony Chalker pleaded guilty in February, 2023, to five counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.
This followed a lengthy police investigation into an enormous sum of missing money, which should have been given to his employer in the wake of several stock sales.
Instead of giving the money to his boss, Mr Chalker diverted the funds to himself.
Goulburn Local Court heard Mr Chalker sold 1270 sheep and 69 cattle between 2015 and 2018 - diverting $370,000 to his own bank account, as well as to those held by his family members or so-called associates.
From 1997, Mr Chalker was employed by Ben van Dalfsen, who is based in the Netherlands, to manage his two properties. One property is in Bigga, the other in Forbes. His employment only ended in 2018 when Mr Chalker moved to WA to begin a new life as a long haul truck driver.
The court heard Mr Chalker's most serious crime occurred in 2016 when $145,879 from the sale of 2,580 sheep from his employer's Bigga property was fraudulently diverted to Mr Chalker's bank account.
In the same year, Mr Chalker took $134,219 for the sale of 690 sheep, diverting the money to himself. Between October and November, 2016, the sale of 14 cattle saw $17,881 diverted to Mr Chalker's accounts.
Then, between January and February, 2018, the sale of 40 cattle saw $51,262 diverted to Mr Chalker's account.
Magistrate Geraldine Beattie told the court the crime was clearly not sophisticated - as the stolen funds were easily traced back to his bank account, or those belonging to his family and associates.
"But it was a severe breach of trust," Magistrate Beattie said.
Mr Chalker's barrister Siobhain Climo told the court her client has been suffering from depression, made worse by the stress caused by drought and also feeling undervalued by his employer. She tendered a report from Mr Chalker's psychiatrist stating that he his depression began around the time of his late wife's illness and her death in 2010.
Ms Climo also said Mr Chalker was remorseful for his actions and had offered $400,000 in compensation in separate Queensland Supreme Court civil proceedings brought by his former employer. (This amount had been rejected and the matter was ongoing.)
The court heard Mr Chalker had no prior convictions, he had been well regarded by his former employer and, according to Ms Climo, he was known by those in his community to be a man of "good character."
Ms Climo also told the court that Mr Chalker was a "low risk" of reoffending. She was concerned that Mr Chalker would not be able to receive the most appropriate mental health treatment if he was in prison. It was stated that, if Mr Challker was granted bail, he would be living with his daughter in Goulburn.
But Magistrate Beattie did not believe anything less than a prison sentence would serve as a proper deterrent. And, while acknowledging the enormity of a diagnosis of depression, she was not convinced that Mr Chalker's mental health had "materially contributed to his offending."
In her sentencing, Ms Beattie told the court, "In the circumstances, the employer who is keeping track of the money is based overseas and employed Mr Chalker, leaving the matter in his capable hands. So it was a deliberate course of action over a period of time."
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"Mr Chalker was employed to manage the farm. So, to then siphon a significant amount of those proceeds of sales to himself is a significant breach of that trust."
Magistrate Beattie said she also took into account the fact that Mr Chalker had taken a long time to address his mental health issues and that he only lodged a guilty plea in February, 2023 - after the case had already been running for a year.
Mr Chalker was also ordered to pay $100,000 compensation to his employer. An appeal has been lodged against the three year prison sentence, which carried a non-parole period of 12 months.
The appeal will be heard in Goulburn District Court in May.