Former Wollongong taxi owner admits to fare scam

Former Wollongong taxi owner Mohamad Matar yesterday pleaded guilty to defrauding a State Government transport scheme which provides fare rebates for disabled passengers.Wollongong Local Court heard the prominent businessman, who founded the region's Islamic Society and who has been honoured for his work with migrants, claimed $4071 from the Ministry of Transport for trips that never occurred.He made the claim using up to 243 fraudulent Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme (TTSS) vouchers dated between April 26 and July 3, 2005, in the name of a hospital patient he knew, who later died.The patient's son, who was a taxi driver employed by Matar at the time, filled out the vouchers using Matar's name and taxi number before his employer lodged them.The court heard the son had also died not long after being interviewed by police.The TTSS scheme is designed to assist people with a severe and permanent disability to get to and from hospital by paying half their taxi fare.The maximum that can be obtained under the scheme for each trip is $30.To qualify for the subsidy, participants must have a permanent disability such as total blindness, be unable to walk or stand, have severe and uncontrollable epilepsy or a severe intellectual disability which requires constant assistance.Matar, a 66-year-old father of five, was originally charged with 243 counts of falsely obtaining money but yesterday it was agreed to roll all of them into one single charge.Barrister Terry McGill told the court that Matar had run a number of businesses in Wollongong before entering the taxi industry in 1991. By 1999 he owned and operated five taxis.Mr McGill said his client was a founding member of the Islamic Society and a former chairman of the Illawarra Ethnic Council who was honoured with a Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 for his services to migrants.Magistrate Les Mabbutt called for a report on Matar's suitability for community service and adjourned the matter to Port Kembla Local Court on October 15.