/Former mayor facing fraud charges knew he was doing wrong thing, court told

Former mayor facing fraud charges knew he was doing wrong thing, court told

Updated

May 08, 2019 14:55:46

Former Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli allegedly knew he was acting outside of Ipswich City Council procedure when he purchased auction items from charity groups with council money, a court has heard.

Key points:

  • Former mayor Andrew Antoniolli believed he had CEO approval to go outside policy, the court heard
  • Mr Antoniolli has pleaded not guilty to 12 fraud charges
  • A four-hour recorded interview between Mr Antoniolli and the CCC has been tabled in court

Mr Antoniolli — who was elected as a councillor for division 7 in 2000 before being sworn in as Ipswich’s 50th mayor in 2017 — is accused of fraudulently using council money to buy items from community organisations and declare them as “donations” over a 12-year period from 2005 to 2017.

The 48-year-old today pleaded not guilty to 12 fraud charges of dishonestly applying to use property, namely a sum of money belonging to Ipswich City Council, as well as one count of attempted fraud, after initially being charged in May last year.

One fraud charge was dropped after court was adjourned on Tuesday, the first day of the trial, so the prosecution could assess relevant exhibits.

Mr Antoniolli told Magistrate Anthony Gett this morning: “I am not guilty, your honour.”

But in her opening address, prosecutor Sarah Farnden said Mr Antoniolli intentionally and dishonestly hid the fact the auction items were purchased with council money, instead labelling the transactions as “charitable donations” when sending them off for processing and final approval.

“There are admissions made to transactions and the fact payments were made for auction items,” Ms Farnden said.

“There are also, the Crown says, largely self-serving statements in that the defendant says he purchased items on behalf of council and says ‘they’ were told not to use the word auction items.”

Mr Antoniolli’s charges stem from a Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) probe into Ipswich City Council called Operation Windage, which resulted in 16 people with connections to the council being charged.

The entire Ipswich City Council was sacked by the State Government last year as a result of the corruption probe, and an administrator was brought in.

A four-hour audio recording of an interview with Mr Antoniolli and CCC investigators was presented to the court on Wednesday.

Mr Antoniolli became emotional as parts of the 2018 interview were played.

“[My] admission is the [purchasing] policy is flawed,” he said.

“The policy has very low degrees of transparency and accountability, and if you want me to make a particular admission as to when I stood, turned around and went — can I swear? — how the f*** did we get to this spot without someone pulling us back in?

“We just crept so far away from where a reasonable person would look and go ‘that’s a little out line’.

“I am a person that sets a pretty high bar of integrity for myself but that does not mean I am infallible.

“You just get led down a path and all of a sudden you just realise, how did this happen? I agree wholeheartedly that it is a policy that is flawed.”

Ms Farnden told the court Mr Antoniolli admitted knowing his actions would not stand up to an auditing process.

“He accepts that, compared to the policy, that it wouldn’t meet scrutiny,” she said.

“[Mr Antoniolli] says the CEO of the time said it was alright to have auction items, or to bid on auction items, but just write up the forms as if they are a donation.

“He says during the interview there was CEO approval to go outside policy.”

‘The culture is hard to change’

In the interview played to the court, Operation Windage primary investigator, Detective Sergeant Saskia Toohey told Mr Antoniolli the policy was one that, in her opinion, could be manipulated.

“We have a culture in this council gunned by two different people — and I don’t intend to incriminate anyone else in this, one [is no longer working at the council] — and it has been highly manipulated,” Mr Antoniolli replied.

Mr Antoniolli said he believed his appointment as mayor was an opportunity to “put things right”.

“You’ve got to understand there was a high-powered bully in this organisation that if you didn’t toe the line that, let’s put it this way, my family has suffered because I stood up to someone,” Mr Antoniolli told the CCC.

“The culture is hard to change, it’s hard to turn this ship around. It is made ever the harder to change the culture when you guys [the CCC] are hanging around like a bad smell.”

Bike, pamper packs, artwork bought at auctions

Ms Farnden told the court Mr Antoniolli used money from the Ipswich City Council’s community donation fund to bid on several auctions items, including a painting he had done himself, a Phantom cartoon pack, ladies pamper packs, a gym membership for a few hundred dollars, as well as a bicycle for $5,000.

She said Mr Antoniolli kept some of the items on council premises, gave some away and kept one, namely a yellow bike, in his shed at home.

“The fact subsequent payments were made out of the [Ipswich City Council] community donation fund is not in dispute,” she said.

“From my perspective, the real issue for your honour to consider is whether funds were applied dishonestly and were perhaps applied to the use of the defendant.”

Ms Farnden told the court Mr Antoniolli knew the council’s community donations policy very well because he was involved with several of the policy’s amendments, none of which permitted the purchase of auction items.

The summary trial will hear from 21 witnesses, including two council officers who worked under Mr Antoniolli, and the lead investigator of the CCC’s Operation Windage.

Defence barrister Peter Callaghan said there was no suggestion any money went into Mr Antoniolli’s bank account.

The trial is expected to run for at least a week.

Topics:

courts-and-trials,

law-crime-and-justice,

government-and-politics,

local-government,

corruption,

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First posted

May 08, 2019 14:15:50