A FRAUDSTER who stole more than $100,000 from the Black Saturday relief fund has walked free from court.Habib Khoury, 61, avoided a jail term after County Court Chief Judge Michael Rozenes found he was mentally ill at the time of his crime.
Khoury falsely claimed $111,000 from the Victorian Bushfire Appeal fund when his investment property in Pheasant Creek was destroyed in the February 2009 fires.
Claims, however, could only be made for an applicant's primary address.
Khoury lived in the Melbourne suburb of Templestowe at the time and had planned to move to the property, which included a supermarket and two sheds, when he retired.
Judge Rozenes accepted the destruction of Khoury's retirement dream had triggered a serious case of depression.
He noted a psychologist's report that found Khoury's mental illness had affected his "perception, judgment and reasoning" when he signed the fund application forms in early 2009, declaring the Pheasant Creek property was his primary address.
"I find that your moral culpability is reduced because of your mental illness and that your detention in custody for his reason would be more onerous," he told Khoury.
Judge Rozenes said Khoury, a married father-of-five, was a man of previously good character and was unlikely to reoffend.
But he said the community would view his fraud as particularly shameful given its links with the bushfire which killed 173 people.
Khoury has repaid the funds in full.
He pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining property by deception.
Judge Rozenes sentenced him to a 12-month jail term, suspended for 12 months.