The case has highlighted problems with the Proceeds of Crime Act, which empowers the Australian Federal Police to confiscate assets from offenders, but not compensate their victims.
It also raises significant concerns about the conduct of the Tax Office, which has aggressively pursued Hogg’s clients, who had no knowledge or involvement in any of his offending.
In several cases the Tax Office imposed interest and penalty rates, while also appointing Dun and Bradstreet to recoup some of the outstanding debts.
Sandra MacFarlane said she had been hounded by the Tax Office over $130,000 in unpaid taxes, after losing $66,000 in Hogg’s illegal scheme, which according to County Court judge Duncan Allen was a “dishonest fabrication designed to deceive the client, so the accused could profit”.
She accuses the Tax Office of exacerbating the financial damage and psychological trauma caused by Hogg.
“The ATO has shown no intention of putting any energy towards tracking down his criminal assets. They have chosen to chase the victims – the low-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, this weekend, Hogg comes out of jail debt-free, to his millions, whilst his victims are left with huge debts,” Ms MacFarlane said.
However, a Tax Office spokesman defended its behaviour and insisted it had worked with victims to achieve “fair and equitable outcomes”.
In 2018, Hogg was handed a minimum three-year custodial sentence after pleading guilty to dozens of fraud and dishonesty offences involving 15 clients.
However, the real number of victims and the full quantum of his offending may never be known.
The Age is aware of 56 former clients who were duped by Hogg, including the best man at his wedding, former students from his alma mater, Mentone Grammar, two AFL footballers and several elderly couples on the cusp of retirement.
Most former clients were small business owners in Melbourne’s bayside suburbs, who are battling to keep afloat.
Over more than 20 years, Hogg lied to clients by claiming he was an accountant – a qualification he never held. He said he could reduce their tax liabilities if they paid their tax into a “unit trust” or purchased “company losses”.
He siphoned up-front payments from his clients into his company bank accounts, while making fraudulent expense claims on his client’s annual tax returns to further reduce their liability to the ATO.
The proceeds of his crimes were used to bankroll regular overseas holidays, gambling sprees, a Maserati sports car and investment properties.
Hogg’s offending only came to light when one of his own clients contacted the ATO and reported concerns they were not meeting their tax obligations.
The AFP placed freezing orders over three properties owned by Hogg in Cheltenham, Elwood and Bonnie Doon in 2018, and seized the proceeds from the sale of the Elwood property under asset-confiscation laws.
But a decision to allow Hogg’s sister-in-law to buy out his stake in a Bonnie Doon property has angered some of Hogg’s victims.
A spokeswoman for the AFP said proceeds of crime laws allowed for the buy-back of another person’s interest in a property when it was not contrary to the public interest.
“Pursuant to a variation order made on 15 March 2019, only Richard Hogg’s 50 per cent interest in the Bonnie Doon Property was restrained, noting that the property was co-owned by another person,” the AFP spokeswoman said.
The AFP insisted that all of Hogg’s assets had been confiscated “where sufficient evidence existed to enable proceedings to be commenced.
I’ve felt for the last four years, somehow, the need to prove my innocence, yet I am the victim here.
Michael Fong, plumber
However, Sandringham plumber Michael Fong said his life had been ruined, first by Hogg, and then by the Tax Office.
“The ATO failed to inform me I’d even been a victim of crime at all. Unlike the others, I never had my day in court. I got no justice. Yet I’ve been hunted by the ATO, and now I have to pay back the money Hogg stole from me which I don’t have because it’s been stolen,” he said.
Mr Fong said he first engaged Hogg as an accountant in 1990 when he was an apprentice plumber, but now finds himself owing $170,000 in unpaid taxes. Mr Fong only realised he had been swindled when media reported on Hogg’s trial.
“I’ve felt for the last four years, somehow, the need to prove my innocence, yet I am the victim here” Mr Fong said.
John Meulan, who works in financial services and lost $200,000 to Hogg, blames the ATO for failing to detect the scam earlier.
“The ATO has pursued me to recover money that I would never have owed had they done their job properly in the first place. Had they picked up Hogg’s offending when it first happened I would never be in the position I’m in now,” Mr Meulan said.
But an ATO spokeswoman said it had provided a range of options to those affected by Hogg’s fraud spree.
“The ATO is providing tailored support to all affected taxpayers in this matter, while minimising any adverse impact to them. A number of taxpayers have resolved their matters with us,” an ATO spokeswoman said.
The ATO offers long-term interest free payment arrangements and, on occasions, can release a victim of crime from their tax liability if payment causes serious financial hardship,” according to the spokeswoman.
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Senior Crime Reporter