A gambling addict who set his Wodonga cafe on fire has been sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 12 months.
Judge Frank Gucciardo handed down the sentence to Rocky Pereira in the County Court of Victoria, for charges relating to a deliberate fire at the former RM Fresh cafe on Stanley Street and a subsequent insurance claim.
"In my view, your gambling disorder ... offers an explanation, not an excuse," he said.
"What matters is the nature and extent of effect of the disorder on mental impairment at the relevant time.
"The decision to offend was not the consequence of the disorder which compared your judgement.
"The offence was premeditated and planned, perhaps not too well, but planned nevertheless.
"The offence was not committed to feed a gambling addiction. The connection ... is primarily temporal, but not causative in any sense.
"You still had a large degree of choice as to how to finance your habit.
"I do not consider that this is a case in which a sentence other than a custodial one is warranted."
The court heard the 18 month jail term for arson was considered a "lenient" sentence given its maximum term of 15 years, and took into account Pereira's lack of priors and his guilty plea at the earliest opportunity in 2019.
The additional jail terms related to his claims at insurance and rent deferral.
Judge Gucciardo said Pereira's gambling increased from the age of 24, and he fit the criteria for diagnosis with gambling disorder.
"It is a familiar story; you had some large initial wins which you put in a separate account, which was meant to fund your gambling," he said.
"With time ... you began to withdraw money from the business.
"You've sought counselling for your gambling. I was told you relapsed about two months ago.
"I was informed that at the peak of your gambling, you were putting something like $30,000 through Pokies each month."
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The business was $16,409 in arrears and no rent had been paid at all in the lead-up to the fire that caused $141,749 in damage on July 16, 2018.
Pereira had written to his real estate, explaining a banking error, and had lodged a misplaced funds complaint with Commonwealth Bank, but it was for $350 and not the $6243 that was claimed on the document for overdue rent.
"This document had been altered by you before providing it to the agents in order to obtain a deferral," Judge Gucciardo said.
For the subsequent charge of obtaining a financial advantage by deception, Pereira received six months' imprisonment.
He was sentenced to three months in jail for his insurance claim, and those two charges were made cumulative to create a total sentence of 21 years' imprisonment.
The court heard police investigators noted the cafe was not in a position to trade on the morning of the fire, with not much stock on site.
"On the 26th of July, police found the bottle containing fuel at your place of residence," Judge Gucciardo said.
"They examined your vehicle ... and found personal documents and photographs of children, cigarettes and lighter, an electric mixer ... property you had removed from the cafe in anticipation of the fire you were to set."
Judge Gucciardo said "rather remarkably", there was a saved recorded exchange between Pereira and his then-partner who also ran the business one month before the arson, where they discussed closing the business.
Pereira was recorded as saying he wanted to "blow it up" and remarked to his then-partner, "I don't want to shut the door and tell anyone that it didn't work ... at least we can say the fire went out ... after that we go, 'nup, there's no point rebuilding it'"
Impacts of the "selfish and unacceptable conduct" to other business owners in the shared complex were shared with the court.
The hairdressing business owners who had been in the Stanley Street complex for 28 years were $10,000 short following their insurance claim.
"They also had build a rapport with you and feel betrayed and upset," Judge Gucciardo said.
"The intent to access insurance cover for your criminal acts is also in my view, contrary to what was submitted, serious dishonesty.
"More serious, certainly, than the actual obtaining of a financial advantage by deception by way of a rent deferral.
"You wish to apologise through your counsel."
The Sri Lankan citizen with permanent residency came to Australia aged 21 with a woman he was dating and lost his father 10 years later, but Judge Gucciardo noted he had a "comfortable" life.
"In Australia you commenced working in a restaurant as a kitchen hand," Judge Gucciardo
"You worked then as a chef and at a salad bar for some four years before purchasing the salad bar, which you ran for six years.
"Following your separation, you sold the business.
"By this stage, you had developed a gambling addiction, however, with the leftover money from the sale you purchased another salad and soup which survived only six months.
"You have been able to refrain from gambling in some periods, but it has been a significant factor in relationship breakdowns."
There is a possibility Pereira will be deported.