A former chief executive of a Tasmanian not-for-profit charity, who admitted to stealing more than $100,000 from the organisation, spent about $20,000 of the cash on online sex workers, a court has heard.
- Justice Michael Brett said if it wasn’t for Burk’s health, he’d be going to prison
- Sean Peter Burk stole about $111,000 from Meals on Wheels between 2012 and 2017
- His defence lawyer argued the medication Burk was on was known to affect impulse control
Sean Peter Burk, 62, previously pleaded guilty to dishonestly acquiring about $111,000 from Meals on Wheels over a period of about 4.5 years.
Burk was appointed to the position of CEO in February 2011, with his offending occurring between July 2012 and February 2017, the court heard.
Over that time he directed funds from the Meals on Wheels bank account to his own and to various third parties to which he owed money.
Speaking in Hobart’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, Burk’s lawyer Greg Barns said his client acknowledged the offending was “serious” and a “breach of trust”.
But he said his client, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, was taking a dopamine-based drug that had been known to affect impulse control.
Mr Barns argued this caused Burk to develop serious problems, including a sex addiction, impulse buying and carelessness.
The court heard Burk had spent about $20,000 on online sex worker sites, where people pay $35 per session to chat to sex workers, and he had given another $20,000 to a Malaysian woman he met on a dating site.
He also bought a motorbike and was spending large sums of money on eating at home, the court was told.
All of these funds came from Meals on Wheels.
Offending began before medication regime, prosecution says
Mr Barns argued that while this type of offending would normally require imprisonment, any sentence must take into account Burk’s ill health.
Medical and character statements both described his deteriorating condition, with a medical doctor saying prison was unlikely to cater for him — it would also prevent him undergoing a course of deep-brain stimulation at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney.
Mr Barns also told the court Burk was remorseful and was repaying what he could.
Justice Michael Brett said he accepted that Burk was “acting on impulse and unable to control those impulses” but that he “knew that some of it was wrong” and stealing the money was a deliberate secondary step not influenced by drugs.
Crown prosecutor Heather Denton pointed out Burk’s offending had begun almost a year prior to when he began taking the drug.
She argued his serious offending warranted a serious penalty, but noted that any sentence may “weigh more heavily because of his medical condition”.
Justice Brett said the case called for “a very significant need for general deterrence” and described Burk’s offending as a “shocking breach of trust” with the charity unable to get most of the money back.
Justice Brett concluded “if it wasn’t for his health, he’d be going to prison” and ordered an assessment for home detention, adding he had not made up his mind — describing Burk’s case as borderline and that there were strong arguments on both sides.
Burk will be sentenced in August.