With an uneasy calm, eyes cast to the floor and a degree of humility, Victorian man David Chen pleaded guilty in Bega Local Court today to filing a false missing person report which sparked a massive land, air, and sea search off Mimosa Rocks National Park.
In a story involving a fictitious twin brother and an identity swap, on August 14, Mr Chen reported his ‘twin brother’ missing from Gillards Beach between Tathra and Bermagui following a swim just before dusk.
In representing the 42-year-old, local solicitor Dominique Rideaux said his client’s actions were premeditated and an effort to free himself of the situation he found himself in.
In what seems like a pile-on of problems in Mr Chen’s life, Mr Rideaux spoke of mounting debt in the family business, a desire to honour his father, looming bankruptcy, unaddressed mental health problems, the break down of his marriage, and custody negotiations concerning his 5-year-old daughter.
“Pressures that forced him [Mr Chen] to behave out of character,” Mr Rideaux told the court.
“My client appears before the court embarrassed, remorseful and contrite.
“The repercussions of this will last decades for him.”
Mr Rideaux presented a number of good character references and a clear criminal record to Magistrate Doug Dick to consider as part of sentencing.
The three and a half-day search for Mr Chen’s fictitious twin involved PolAir, Eden Water Police, NSW Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Marine Rescue NSW, Surf Rescue NSW, the Westpac Surf Life Saver Helicopter and Drone, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Magistrate Dick was presented with a bill of $74,495.36 stemming from the effort.
“I am sure the real figure is much much greater,” Mr Rideaux told the court while acknowledging the personal risk emergency personnel and volunteers placed themselves in.
In addressing Mr Chen, Magistrate Dick said, “you are obviously very ashamed of what you have done.”
“Yes, your honour,” Mr Chen responded.
“However, this offence sits at the very high end, I need to send a clear message and deterrent to the community,” Magistrate Dick said.
“Despite the passionate plea from Mr Rideaux.”
Mr Chen was fined $5,000 and placed on a two year Community Corrections Order which means he has to be of good behaviour and accept mental health treatment as directed.
He was also ordered to pay the $74,495.36 search and rescue bill.