A nephew of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has narrowly avoided jail after he ripped off multiple clients, carrying out illegal and defective building work in an apparent bid to fuel a cocaine habit.
Mitchell James Cole pleaded guilty in July to 20 charges relating to his conduct in soliciting work from four clients while he was unlicensed and uninsured between May 2018 and July 2019. Each of the clients lost between $4000 and $20,000 after Cole either did not do the work he was paid for, or did defective work on their properties.
Magistrate Kasey Pearce told Parramatta Local Court on Tuesday that Cole, 29, had made little to no effort to pay back the money to the clients.
In an affidavit, Cole had told the court he was “going through a really bad time with drug and alcohol addiction” and he was “very regretful and sorry and I sincerely did not mean to accept people’s funds and not do the work and do defective work.”
But Ms Pearce said it was difficult to know “what to make of” his expressions of remorse, or to understand the “nexus” between his drug use and his offending.
“The suggestion seems to be Mr Cole was in need of funds to support his use of cocaine,” she said, which makes it “difficult to accept” his assertion that he did not mean to take the money from people while either not completing the work or doing defective work.
Ms Pearce noted Cole and his then-company Nexo Build were previously convicted and fined for similar offences in October 2018. Within five days of that conviction, Cole had registered an ABN for his new business, UpFront Build and Design.
“It appears from the facts that he sought to essentially re-establish himself and continue to behave in exactly the same way as he had before,” Ms Pearce said.
“What Mr Cole’s previous history shows is that the offences before me today are not uncharacteristic aberrations in behaviour, but are part of a continuing attitude of disobedience of the law.”
Ms Pearce said such a case “may indicate a more severe penalty is warranted”. She also noted the maximum penalty for several charges included a potential jail term of 12 months, or in the case of one of the charges, two years.
However, she found his offending did not quite meet the threshold for a sentence of imprisonment, and instead ordered him to complete 200 hours of community service over the course of a two-year community corrections order, and pay a total of $26,000 in fines.
She also ordered Cole to pay more than $30,000 in compensation to three of the four clients.
The Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal had already ordered him to pay $17,000 in instalments to another client, James McKaw, last year. But Cole paid $1050 before he stopped, telling Mr McKaw he was unable to work due to health reasons.
On Tuesday, Ms Pearce said no such excuse was aired in court and the offender had been in paid work for the past 10 months.
Instead, Cole had indicated he stopped paying Mr McKaw because the latter went to the media “and aired everything”.
Ms Pearce said lawyers for Cole had argued “extensive media coverage” as a result of their client’s relationship to the Prime Minister – his uncle by marriage – amounted to “extracurial punishment”.
Reports by Channel Nine’s A Current Affair alleged Cole used his relationship to the Prime Minister to tout for business, something Ms Pearce said was not in evidence before her.
However, she said for the most part the media reports “focus on the behaviour of Mr Cole as a builder, and an unlicensed and uninsured builder” and “they don’t overly sensationalise the allegations against him”.
While it was his relationship to the Prime Minister that likely caught the media’s attention, she found that “having attracted that attention there is nothing [in the reporting] … that should mitigate the sentence he receives today”.
Wearing a black shirt, black face mask and grey trousers, Cole remained silent as he was told: “you have a history, and your conduct to date indicates you have very little regard for those who have purchased your services.
“You were very much on the cusp of going to jail,” Ms Pearce said.
She warned Cole that should he offend again, “you may find yourself serving a period of full-time custody” as there is “nowhere further to go”.
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