17 March 2013

Certification scams

The SMH reports that Mark Anthony Buhagiar has pleaded guilty (in Sutherland Local Court) to fraud and using false documents to obtain a financial advantage. (Buhagiar was also charged with common assault after he spat at a Fairfax photographer taking photographs during a break in the hearings.)

Buhagiar charged thousands of dollars to run fake assessments for migrant tradespeople and then supplied forged documents stating the recipients were qualified to carry out electrical tradework.

Buhagiar was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 13½ months.

His scam was uncovered through discrepancies in signatures on trade certificates.

The SMH notes that
 It was then discovered that Buhagiar had set up an office and a company, and presented himself as a qualified assessor from VETASSESS - an accredited registered training organisation that covers more than 160 trade qualifications in Australia and administers the recognised prior learning scheme for migrants seeking to have their overseas trade qualifications and experience recognised. 
He had been conducting sham assessments targeting male migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds and charging up to $6000 for the forged certificates. 
Fair Trading officers said he had been engaged in a calculated, premeditated breach of trust. It was argued that the offences were aggravated by his disregard for public safety and the tradespeople could have been responsible for substandard electrical work exposing the public and themselves to real and potential danger. 
Dozens of people were caught by the racket, which netted Buhagiar almost $80,000.
The Australian reports that
"The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the Department of Education and Communities were notified [after initial detection], with the ICAC returning the matter to Fair Trading for further investigation," Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said in a statement.
Twenty-two applicants were found to have been using fraudulent documents, Mr Stowe said.
He said Fair Trading had since improved its licensing IT system.
In 2009 Buhagiar was in trouble, with one newspaper reporting -
Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge has warned people not to do business with Mark Buhagiar and his airconditioning company, Five Star Air Pty Ltd.
Ms Judge said the Windsor-based trader had never been issued with a licence by the Office of Fair Trading to contract or undertake airconditioning or gas fitting work.
Mr Buhagiar and Five Star Air were recently fined $93,119 in Parramatta Court for offences under the Home Building Act 1989, including contracting for and carrying out this specialist work and taking excessive deposits, she said.
Fair Trading has previously prosecuted and fined Mr Buhagiar for home building offences.
“There is a serious concern that he and Five Star Air Pty Ltd may continue to act outside the law and fail to provide consumers with the goods or services for which they have paid,” the minister said.
Fair Trading's February 2010 Think Smart newsletter stated that
Acting Minister for Fair Trading, Graham West unveiled a ‘rogues gallery’ of ten unscrupulous traders brought to justice by NSW Fair Trading in 2009.
Mr West said the Government was proud of the results achieved over the last year, and issued a warning that inspections, investigations and prosecutions would continue unabated in 2010.
“Let this ‘rogues gallery’ serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they can treat NSW consumers with contempt,” Mr West said.
Among the individuals and companies successfully prosecuted by NSW Fair Trading in 2009 were:
  • Armond Shoostovian – finance broker – convicted under the Consumer Credit Administration Act on 28 July 2009. He was fined $183,600 and sentenced to a 2-year good behaviour bond. 
  • Mark Anthony Buhagiar – unlicensed and unqualified gas, refrigeration and air-conditioning fitter – convicted under the Home Building Act on 19 August 2009, fined $18,500. In addition, on 13 November 2009 he was convicted under s.307A for making a false or misleading application and fined $2,000 and placed on a good behaviour bond for 12 months. ...
Questions about vetting by Fair Trading NSW?