The jury in the fraud trial of former Dual Australia manager Josie Gonzalez and her husband, Alvaro Gonzalez began its deliberations today. The couple is accused of duping the underwriter out of $17.4 million.
They have pleaded not guilty to 14 counts each of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and have been on trial since mid June, contesting the charges.
The 12 jurors at the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne retired at around 10:25am after Judge Paul Lacava gave them instructions on matters they need to consider as they decide on the verdict.
“It is the answers the witnesses gave that are evidence, not the questions asked,” Judge Lacava told the jury yesterday.
“This case is about obtaining financial advantage by deception.”
He says the fact that Josie Golzalez decided to testify and be cross-examined while her husband did not should not be taken to mean anything.
“Josie Gonzalez chose to give evidence. She did not have to do that as an accused,” Judge Lacava said to the jury.
“Alvaro Gonzalez did not give evidence in this case. It cannot be used as evidence against him. It does not constitute an admission by him.”
The prosecution claims the couple submitted more than 400 fraudulent invoices to Dual Australia for legal work from Jaag Lawyers, a law firm they set up specifically for the purpose of defrauding the underwriter. Josie Gonzalez was a director of the firm, and Alvaro its only employee.
It is alleged that “each of the accused committed the offences as a course of conduct” and there was “a regularity of purpose” when the couple billed Josie’s former employer between March 2011 and May 2013.
The jury was told the alleged fraud started a few months after Josie Gonzalez, 45, joined Dual as national claims manager in November 2010. She was recruited by Dual Australia CEO Damien Coates to join the company.
Jaag Lawyers, an acronym for Josie and Alvaro Gonzalez, was registered on November 5 2010, just days after Josie started her job at the underwriter.
In her testimony, Josie Gonzalez told the court there was an agreement with Mr Coates for her to join Dual and for her husband to provide legal work through a law firm the couple wanted to set up.
“Damien’s words were ‘go for it’,” she told the court. “I remember going home and telling my husband that Damien was sold on the idea.”
Mr Coates told the court the only agreement he had with Josie was her taking up his job offer.
The alleged fraud was discovered when Josie Gonzalez went on maternity leave in late May 2013. A number of accounting anomalies were uncovered during her absence, which led to a freezing order on their finances and a caveat being placed on property of Josie Gonzalez’s parents to prevent any sale.
They returned all the money under a civil deed reached with Dual in September 2013.
The jury will continue its deliberations tomorrow.