BRISBANE, Australia, March 20 (UPI) -- A New Zealander who claimed to be a Tahitian prince has been sentenced to 14 years in prison in Australia for fraud.
Joel Morehu-Barlow pleaded guilty to all charges, admitting he defrauded his employer, Queensland Health, of $16 million, the Brisbane Times reported. He was given 14 years for the fraud and another two years for drug possession.
Prosecutors asked for a 16-year sentence. David Shepherd, the legal aid lawyer representing Morehu-Barlow, urged the court to give a 10-year sentence.
Shepherd said Morehu-Barlow had a difficult childhood in an impoverished New Zealand family with a father who was violent, especially when he was drunk. As the oldest child, Morehu-Barlow felt responsible for his younger siblings.
"His mother was often beaten and she often had to leave the house meaning that the children had to fend for themselves, even roaming the street when there was no food," Shepherd said.
His younger brother's suicide in 2007 pushed Morehu-Barlow over the edge, Shepherd said.
Morehu-Barlow set up a fake charity, Healthy Initiatives and Choices, and funneled money to its account from Queensland Health. He used the money to buy property and brand-name luxury items.
He explained his lifestyle to colleagues by saying he was a Tahitian prince who had to work to show he was worthy of the money held in trust for him.
Shepherd said Queensland Health could have caught Morehu-Barlow years earlier if it had better controls. On one occasion, he was asked to provide documentation for a grant to Healthy Initiatives, but the agency did not pursue the matter when he did not produce it.