Former 60 minutes reporter Stephen Barret has been accused of helping three key players in the Plutus Payroll Scandal. The scam which was meant to divert Pay As You Go withholding tax to the ATO raised $165 million. The scam worked by taking control of Plutus Payroll Australia (a company which services payroll for their clients) and setting up several companies which would be directed by small-time crooks. Plutus would then transfer payroll funds received from large clients to these second-tier companies and pay a small portion of the funds to the Australian Tax Office. It is alleged that no more than 60 percent of the Pay As You Go withholding tax was forwarded to the ATO. Once the ATO realised that tax was owing, the second-tier companies would be wound up and the directors would disappear.


Having been allegedly embroiled in the scheme which ripped off $5 million, Stephen Barrett has claimed that he was “manipulated” by members of the Plutus Payroll Australia scam syndicate. The crown prosecutor has charged Mr Barrett with being part of a joint criminal enterprise along with three others by using his journalist credentials to menace and expose. Accordingly, he has pleaded not guilty to making an unwarranted demand with menaces and intention to obtain financial advantage by accusation or threat.


According to section 294K of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt the following:

(1) A person who makes any unwarranted demand with menaces–

(a) with the intention of obtaining a gain or of causing a loss, or

(b) with the intention of influencing the exercise of a public duty,

Is guilty of an offence

It is important to note that a charge of extortion or blackmail according to section 294K of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) does not require actual words being spoken. Actions which may amount to a demand or menace can include body language and implied threats.


As already stated above, Stephen Barrett is principally relying on a defence which posits he was manipulated by the ring leaders of the Plutus Payroll Australia scam syndicate. In addition to this, other defences could be relied upon if a person has been charged under section 294K of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). These include:

  • You deny that you extorted or blackmailed anyone
  • You deny that your actions constituted menaces any threat and was not “detrimental or unpleasant’
  • You deny that there was any intention of gaining a benefit or causing another person loss
  • You claim that you were forced to extort or blackmail someone because you were under duress by another party.


Whether or not you may think that a defence applies to you, it is important that you get in touch with one of our specialist Sydney Criminal Defence And Traffic Lawyers as soon as possible if you or someone you know has been charged with an offence under section 294K of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Contrary to common belief, the criminal offence carries a maximum of 10 – 14 years imprisonment. However, the chances of you receiving a sentence of this calibre may be reduced if you can present the following:

  1. If it is your first criminal offence
  2. You present good character references
  3. You demonstrate a need for rehabilitation
  4. You show actual remorse
  5. You prove that you will suffer extra curial punishment (i.e., punishment which you experience outside the Court’s sentence such as being held on remand)

If you have been charged with an extortion or blackmail related offences, please visit our website to get in touch with one of our Sydney Fraud Criminal Lawyers.



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