Auckland business owner jailed for more than a year for COVID-19 wage subsidy fraud

The man was charged after the Ministry of Social Development carried out checks on the man's business.
The man was charged after the Ministry of Social Development carried out checks on the man's business. Photo credit: RNZ

An Auckland man has been sentenced to more than a year in prison for defrauding taxpayers through COVID-19 wage subsidies. 

Nathan Peter Irvie Downey was sentenced in the Manukau District Court last Friday, after admitting to 13 charges of dishonestly taking or using a document. 

Between March 23 and August 24, 2020, Downey submitted 19 fraudulent wage subsidy applications for Protective Systems Limited (PSL), a company he was the sole director and shareholder of. 

Thirteen of the 19 applications were successful, resulting in $196,076 worth of subsidies. 

Several people were named as employees of the company. However, checks by the Ministry of Social Development revealed PSL had no employees and was not a registered employer. 

According to the ministry, the company's bank statements showed it paid just under $75,000 to contractors during the period when the subsidy was paid and just under $18,000 of that went to Downey's personal bank account. 

The remaining money was spent on company and personal use, including "online gambling, adult entertainment clubs and fast food".

Downey also received a wage subsidy as a full-time employee of a company run by his mother. 

During sentencing, Judge Mina Wharepouri said the offending involved a "high level of planning and premeditation", saying it was more "exploitative" than other types of fraud, given the nature of the wage subsidy scheme. 

The judge sentenced Downey to 20.5 months imprisonment. 

He has appealed his sentence, which will be heard at the High Court in Auckland on September 15. 

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