Ex-Meals On Wheels head Sean Peter Burk gets home detention after theft of $111k from charity

A former chief executive of Meals On Wheels Tasmania who stole more than $100,000 from the charity to fund his sex addiction and impulse buying has avoided prison and instead been sentenced to 18 months in home detention.

Sean Peter Burk, 62, admitted to stealing $111,000 from the Tasmanian branch of Meals On Wheels over a period of about four and a half years from February 2012.

He was sentenced in the Supreme Court of Hobart on Wednesday afternoon where Justice Michael Brett described his offending as “a grave and ongoing breach of trust”.

As a qualified accountant with access to the charity’s finances, the court heard Burk was able to use his position to “deliberately and dishonestly” arrange for payments to be made “without difficulty or detection”.

He used the money to pay off personal loans, credit cards and arranged for direct transfers from him to a Malaysian woman he met on a dating site, who it later turned out was deceiving him.

The court earlier heard Burk also bought a motorbike and was spending large sums on home-delivered food.

Justice Brett said while there was “some evidence [Burk] took steps to cover up” his theft, it was not particularly sophisticated and a cursory audit would have revealed his deception.

Burk was caught out in 2017 when the charity’s financial officer discovered discrepancies in the not-for-profit’s finances.

Drug side effects ‘don’t explain or mitigate dishonesty’

Defence lawyer Greg Barns argued Burk’s behaviour was greatly affected by Sifrol, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease, with side effects that can include impulse control disorder.

Sean Peter Burk, pictured during his time as Meals On Wheels Tasmania CEO.(Supplied: Meals on Wheels)

Justice Brett said he accepted this was the case with Burk, who experienced a sex addiction, impulsive buying and carelessness about incurring debt.

“[The drug’s] role is not controversial and is supported by medical evidence, however these circumstances are of marginal relevance in respect of moral culpability,” Justice Brett said.

He said although the drug’s effects led Burk to impulsively incur debt and financial commitments, it did not affect his capacity to understand that taking the “extra money was wrong” and the drug did not play a role in the decision to steal the money.

He said the drug’s side effects did not “explain or mitigate dishonesty or moral culpability”.

Justice Brett noted that aside from this offending, Burk was a person of “otherwise good character” and that this particular “conduct was out of character and unlikely to be repeated”.

He said now that Burk was no longer taking the medication, he had developed a “genuine remorse” for his conduct, evident by his plea of guilty and attempt at restitution.

In his sentencing, Justice Brett took into account Burk’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the “active management” of which he said was “unlikely to be provided in prison”.

He ordered Burk to spend 18 months in home detention and repay at least $103,000 to Meals On Wheels and its insurer.

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Meals on Wheels Tasmania former chief executive Sean Burk stole $111k from charity to fund online sex, court told

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.

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.

The court heard Sean Peter Burk was remorseful and was repaying what he could.(ABC News)

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.

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