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Dual 'deeply saddened' by Gonzalez fraud

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Dual Asia Pacific CEO Damien Coates has spoken of his sadness after former claims manager Josie Gonzalez and her husband were given significant jail terms for a $17 million fraud – but also his relief that the six-year ordeal is over.

County Court of Victoria Judge Paul Lacava on Friday sentenced “mastermind” Josie Gonzalez to 9.5 years in prison, and her husband Alvaro Gonzalez to 7.5 years.

Josie, 45, will serve a minimum of seven years before being eligible for parole, while Alvaro, 51, will serve a minimum of five years.

Judge Lacava said the fraud could have destroyed Dual’s business, but he applied some “mercy” as the couple have two daughters, aged six and 11, who are being cared for by relatives.

Mr Coates told insuranceNEWS.com.au that while as a father he is “deeply saddened by the actions of these parents and the impact it will have on the children, the justice system must prevail and Dual has co-operated where required to provide support to this process”.

“Dual received incredible support from the broking community at the time of the incident and over the subsequent six years our business has gone from strength to strength, so we are glad to now put this chapter to rest.”

A jury in July found the pair guilty of 14 charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception after the fraud, which took place over several years, was discovered.

“The prosecution case that this was a joint criminal enterprise between the two of you was, in my view, unassailable,” Judge Lacava said on Friday. “But your role, Josie Gonzalez, was as the principal offender.”

The couple began falsely billing Dual a few months after Josie joined the company in November 2010. Some 428 invoices were submitted from Jaag Lawyers, a firm they set up to carry out the crime. “Jaag” is an acronym of Josie and Alvaro Gonzalez.

Judge Lacava said the Dual fraud escalated over time, with the offending “of a very high level for a fraud of this kind”.

“The money that you obtained from your fraud, while it came to Jaag from Dual, was in fact money held in trust by Dual for its Lloyd’s syndicates in London,” he said. “What you did had the potential to destroy the business of Dual.”

Josie Gonzalez had maintained that Mr Coates had told her to “go for it” when she spoke to him about her plans to set up a firm with Alvaro to provide legal services.

“That in my judgement was a blatant lie and would have been seen as such by the jury,” Judge Lacava said.

The greater severity of Josie’s sentence took into account that she had pleaded guilty to deception in a magistrates’ court when she was 22 and a saleswoman at Myer in the Melbourne suburb of Highpoint West. The case involved 51 instances of falsifying vouchers related to customers returning goods. She received a good behaviour bond, but escaped conviction.

Josie Gonzalez was later admitted as a legal practitioner despite the Board of Examiners knowing of the earlier court case. Alvaro was admitted in 2009.

The “remarkable similarity” between the previous case and the Dual fraud showed she did not learn her lesson, Judge Lacava said, assessing her prospects for rehabilitation as “only fair”.

He described most of her evidence as a “concoction of lies”.

Judge Lacava said he believed Alvaro was encouraged into the deception by his wife, but had also played an active role in supporting the fraud and had benefitted from the proceeds.

“I conclude that you both lived very well on the proceeds of the fraud at the expense of Dual before being caught out.” Neither of them was remorseful, he noted.

Some of the charges involve claims of more than $50,000 and carry a maximum penalty of 20 years.

The full recovery of the proceeds, which included money paid to the tax office, followed settlement of a civil deed brought by Dual in September 2013. The agreement released the parties from any further civil action.

But a criminal case was launched after the crimes were reported to police in November 2013 by the Legal Services Board, which is responsible for regulating the legal profession.