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03/19/2013

News / Phony Tahitian prince caught red-handed with fake invoice sentenced to 14 years in prison

An Australian District Court has sentenced a man who claimed to be a Tahitian prince to 14 years in prison for defrauding Queensland Health, a taxpayer-funded public health department, of more than A$16,600,000 (US$17,264,000). The fake prince, whose real name is Joel Barlow, and who is also known as Hohepa Hikairo Morehu-Barlow, used the stolen money to fund an extravagant lifestyle and prove to his friends and family that he was, in fact, a wealthy Tahitian prince.

Queensland District Court judge Kerry O’Brien also ruled that Barlow is to be barred from parole until December 2016 for his “audacious” fraud.

“I cannot ignore the amount of money that's involved here...the fact that these are public monies,” O’Brien stated, as quoted by The Australian. He also noted that the defrauded money was used on nothing more than an extravagant lifestyle and luxury goods.

Prosecutors called for Barlow to be given a prison sentence of between 14 and 16 years. Prosecutor Todd Fuller said in earlier sentencing submissions that Barlow’s offense was in the worst category. Defense lawyers, on the other hand, tried to emphasize the pathological nature of Barlow’s spending habits, saying that he was spending money to compensate for his terrible childhood and feelings of guilt over his younger brother’s suicide, and argued that 10 years of jail would be more appropriate in light of those circumstances.

Several supporters of Barlow were also present in the courtroom and cheered him as he came in. They began shouting expletives when the judge read out his sentence.

Barlow was born in New Zealand and was the eldest of six children. His father was an abusive alcoholic and the six children were frequently forced to scavenge the streets for food. Barlow already had some run-ins with the law in New Zealand. In 1999 he was handed an eight-month non-residential sentence for stealing around $32,000 as a servant. He also received a similar sentence for using a document for fraudulent advantage.

In 2001 Barlow moved to Australia to come clean and start a new life, as defense lawyers put it. However, his crime-free life was turned around by the suicide of his younger brother, and Barlow plunged into a spiral of guilt, defense lawyers claimed.

He began to steal from Queensland Health, where he had been working as a finance officer, in September 2007. At first, the amounts were relatively small, but as Barlow became emboldened by the success of his illegal money transfers, he began to steal greater sums of money. Most of the stolen money was illegally retrieved from the Queensland health minister’s charity grant fund.

To avoid getting caught, Barlow began forging documents, including a letter from Queensland health minister Paul Lucas and several invoices.

Barlow spent the exorbitant sums of money on items such as luxury cars, designer goods, gifts for his friends and family, and even a life-size horse lamp. Defense lawyers argued that those items were not good investments and that Barlow’s splurges demonstrated that he was being driven to steal and spend by his psychological disorder. Barlow was also trying hard to maintain the lie that he was a Tahitian prince with ample sums of money in his bank accounts.

The Queensland Health finance officer was eventually caught red-handed after he forged an invoice from James Cook University in northern Queensland. Barlow wanted Queensland Health to pay A$11,000,000 (US$11,440,000) for what he alleged was his education at university. This payment drew suspicions from a middle-level public servant, who did a simple Internet check and discovered that the money was going to Barlow’s own Commonwealth Bank account.

Barlow was arrested in December 2011 and has been in custody ever since. Investigators later uncovered the full extent of the fraud and also found drugs at Barlow’s house.


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