By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A manager who amassed more than $320,000 while illegally employing migrant workers at an asparagus and broccolini farm in Kooweerup has been jailed.
Sarith Kit, 48, of Keysborough, pleaded guilty at the Victorian County Court to recklessly employing “unlawful citizens” and lawful citizens whose visas didn’t permit them to work.
Kit also pleaded guilty to recklessly dealing with more than $100,000 worth of proceeds of crime.
In joint raids on 2 December 2016, officers from Australian Border Force and Australian Federal Police identified 89 illegal workers at Vizzarri Farm.
They later discovered an “illegal employment scheme” dating back to 2015.
The workers in the farm’s packing sheds reported directly to Kit, who reported to the farm’s managing director Giuseppe Vizzarri.
As part of the scheme, the illegal casual workers were employed by word of mouth and never asked if they were lawfully permitted to work.
Kit told federal police that he did not have the right to check workers’ visa status.
“They say they are Australian citizens,” he allegedly told them.
According to tendered statements, an Indonesian worker arrived on a holiday visa with a plan to work in Australia. Others got work through word of mouth from friends.
They were purportedly supplied to Vizzarri under false contracts and invoices issued to two labour hire companies.
Vizzarri transferred money to the companies’ accounts. Cash was later withdrawn from the companies – who were paid commissions – and handed to Kit.
Kit – who also took a commission – calculated and divvied up the cash into workers’ pay envelopes at his home.
He was not accused of exploiting the workers, who allegedly blew the whistle for being paid below the casual award rate.
Police seized more than $400,000 cash from Kit’s home. Kit pleaded guilty to $323,940 being proceeds of crime.
Kit’s “integral” role amassed “substantial” money, sentencing judge Gregory Lyon said on 12 April.
He was aware of a “substantial risk” that the workers were employed illegally, and unjustifiably took the risk, Judge Lyon said.
“Your role was more than a mere courier,” Judge Lyon said.
“The message must be sent that in dealing with or amassing the sums of money from criminal activities cannot be tolerated and will be usually met with a period of imprisonment.”
In mitigation, Judge Lyon noted Kit’s absence of prior convictions, case delays, loss of his 21-year job at the farm, guilty plea and good rehabilitation prospects.
Judge Lyon fined Kit $40,000, with the forfeiture of the seized $323,000 for the Migrant Act offences.
Kit was jailed for up to 14 months for the proceeds of crime charge.
He must serve five months in custody, followed by a nine-month good behaviour bond – otherwise known as a recognizance release order.