Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jail Craig Thomson over HSU credit card misuse, prosecution argues

PROSECUTORS have called for former Labor MP Craig Thomson to be sent to prison, saying he has shown no remorse for stealing the money of Health Services Union members to pay for prostitutes and other personal expenses.

Victorian prosecutor Lesley Taylor SC today told the Melbourne Magistrates Court that Thomson’s actions and persistent denial of his crimes were “arrogant in the extreme”.
“He has uttered not one single word of remorse,” she said. “He has said basically that others committed the physical acts.”
Thomson, 49, has been convicted of at least 65 theft and dishonesty offences from his time leading the HSU, when he used union-issued credit cards to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash and charge escort services back to the union.
Making submissions on his pending sentence today, his barrister Greg James QC that Thomson was confronted by “moments of need or desire” during his time as HSU national secretary, when his relationship with his then wife was breaking down.
“What appeared to have happened was a response by him to his own impulses on a more or less opportunistic basis,” Mr James said.
“He sought comfort elsewhere.
“The climate (at the HSU) appeared to be that if he hadn’t spent the money on prostitutes and pornographic movies then there was unlikely to have been concern.
“It doesn’t aggravate the offence that he spent the money on prostitutes. It may not be socially acceptable to many (but) it is a lawful area of expenditure according to the law in Australia now.”
Thomson is facing the prospect of up to five years in prison, though the court heard he had already agreed to pay $24,538.42 in compensation for his actions.
Mr James said Thomson had taken out a mortgage to pay the compensation and intended to pay it within three months.
He said Thomson had lost every prospect of a career in politics or public life, and suffered from anxiety as a result of his humiliating downfall.
“From the very moment of his arrest on, he was very publicly pilloried,” Mr James said.
Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg last month found Thomson guilty on charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception and theft, ruling Thomson had used HSU credit cards to pay prostitutes more than $5500, withdraw more than $6000 in cash and pay for his wife’s travel expenses.
He also found Thomson had spent $1981 of union money after he had taken his seat in parliament.
Thomson’s former HSU colleague Michael Willamson is already in custody as he awaits sentencing for fraud charges related to his corrupt dealings while president of the Health Services Union East Branch.
Williamson, who pleaded guilty to four charges, has agreed to owing the HSU $5 million based on his fraudulent behaviour but has filed for bankruptcy and is not expected to pay back any of the funds.
The HSU is one of five trade unions which will face particular scrutiny during the royal commission into union corruption, due to begin next month.
The hearing continues.

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