'Fake prince' sentenced to 14 years jail

Last updated 19:29 19/03/2013
 	 Hohepa Morehu-Barlow
GUILTY: Hohepa Morehu-Barlow was born in New Zealand but has lived in Australia for many years.

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From a luxury apartment in one of Brisbane's swankiest suburbs to a cell in one of its jails, Joel Morehu-Barlow's fall from grace has been swift and spectacular.

The man who once claimed to be a Tahitian prince has been jailed for 14 years after pleading guilty to defrauding Queensland Health of more than $16.6 million.

Morehu-Barlow lived the high life for four years from 2007, stealing huge sums of cash from his employer, which he spent on designer goods, cars, an apartment, and presents for his friends, family and colleagues.

The 38-year-old former staffer carried out his get-rich-quick scheme by creating a false business to siphon money from a government account that existed to provide grants to charitable groups.

He even dared to forge documents with the signatures of former ministers Paul Lucas and Stephen Robertson to facilitate the transactions.

The court heard the offending escalated until his final theft in late 2011, when he approved an $11 million payment to himself by piggybacking on an existing funding agreement between the government and James Cook University for the provision of dental services in Cairns and Townsville.

His opulent lifestyle quickly unravelled when a complaint was made to police and the paper trail led back to him.

He was arrested just one month later, after trying to take his own life, and has remained in protective custody.

It is there that he will spend at least the next three years and nine months before he is eligible for parole.

Morehu-Barlow's lawyer, David Shepherd, painted him as a man who had suffered a difficult and abusive childhood.

He said he stole the cash to fight feelings of childhood inadequacy and deprivation and to alleviate guilt over the death of his brother.

Prosecutor Todd Fuller SC claimed Morehu-Barlow was an opportunistic thief who breached his position of trust because of greed.

The court heard he had previously been sentenced in New Zealand for stealing from his employer.

Judge O'Brien agreed Morehu-Barlow's behaviour was "audacious".

He said the amount of money and the need for deterrence warranted a cumulative sentence totalling 14 years for Morehu-Barlow's eight charges, which included aggravated fraud and forgery.

The court was told about $12 million of the stolen funds had been recovered, with some of the goods attracting huge public interest when they recently went to auction.

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A large group of Morehu-Barlow's friends were in court on Tuesday to support him as he faced what Mr Shepherd described as his "public shaming".

They swore in disbelief at the lengthy sentence but joked among themselves as they said goodbye to Morehu-Barlow and left the court as he was led downstairs to the cells.

- AAP

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