A Victorian man who posed as a non-existent twin and filed a missing persons report on himself in order to avoid potential bankruptcy has been ordered to pay over $74,000 in compensation over the ordeal.
Forty-two-year-old Nunawading man David Chen pleaded guilty in Bega Local Court on Tuesday to making a false representation resulting in a police investigation, and was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order and fined $5000.
Magistrate Doug Dick said Chen's "elaborate" plot involved an "element of planning", and ordered he pay compensation of $74,595.36 to cover some of the costs of the four-day search operation by emergency services involving personnel, helicopters and drones.
"You were sitting there very quietly, head bowed, obviously very ashamed of what you've done," magistrate Dick told Chen.
Chen made the false missing persons report on the afternoon of August 14, claiming he had not seen his twin brother after he claimed he went for a swim at isolated Gillards Beach in Mimosa Rocks National Park, north of Tathra.
He told NSW Police he left his brother at the beach around lunch time before returning to Tathra by car.
Chen told police when he returned to the beach hours later there was no sign of his brother other than clothes and some personal belongings.
The intensive search involved NSW Police Marine Area Command, multiple surf life saving clubs, Merimbula and Bermagui Marine Rescue, Bega Valley SES volunteers, NSW Ambulance, PolAir and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
Police investigations soon revealed Chen's twin brother did not exist, and Chen was attempting to assume a new identity through creating the hoax.
Chen's lawyer Dominique Rideaux said his client had suffered a "monumental fall from grace" after running his father's business into the ground and separating from his wife over recent months.
"It was a premeditated act to try and extricate himself from a situation," Mr Rideaux told the court
Mr Rideaux described Chen's behaviour as "out of character", and said his client, who he described as an "upstanding citizen", was embarrassed by his offending and felt financially "pushed" to concoct the false story.
He told the court Chen, who sat motionless with his head bowed, had felt he had no choice but to take over the family business from his ageing father.
Mr Rideaux said the failure of the business, the breakdown of his relationship and mental health issues had led his client to create the scenario in order to save "personal face" and also that of his family.
He said his client was "not in his right mind" at the time of the offence, and that his plan was "doomed to fail".
"Ultimately it did unravel," Mr Rideaux told the court.
He said his client, who is currently unemployed, now hopes to avoid bankruptcy by gaining employment.
"He sees very strongly he has to make amends for this," Mr Rideaux said.
Magistrate Dick said despite not having the authority to enforce interstate community corrections supervision. he told the court he will recommend Victoria Police supervise Chen. He also ordered Chen undertake a mental health assessment.