Criminal Law News & Current Affairs
Four men accused of ACT Public Trustee’s office theft appear in court
Four men accused of stealing $1.65 million at the ACT Public Trustee’s office have appeared in court for the first time.
Timothy Stewart McLeod, 33, of Pearce, and Stephen Evans, 32, of Calwell, entered pleas of not guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday to a total of 72 offences, including theft and obtaining property by deception.
Neither appeared before the court, and were represented instead by their lawyers.
Joshua Leighton, of Bonython, and Donald Tawanda Savanhu, of Ngunnawal, did not enter pleas when they appeared, and their matters were adjourned until December.
The quartet was last month charged by ACT Policing after a lengthy investigation. Documents outlining the allegations were not tendered in court on Tuesday.
It is alleged the suspect transactions took place between 2010 and 2014 and included debit card fraud, thefts from cash machines, contractor kickbacks, and false paperwork trails.
Outside court, McLeod’s lawyer Adrian McKenna said his client would defend the charges.
“The charges clearly raise very serious allegations,” Mr McKenna said.
“It is important they are handled very carefully and without pre-judgment. My client is eager to progress the proceedings after prosecuting authorities provide more information.”
The ACT Public Trustee last month revealed it had repaid more than $1.7 million to 87 clients, including interest, and overhauled risk management strategies after being alerted to the alleged fraud.
In March last year, The Canberra Times revealed the office had stood down two staff after it discovered money was allegedly fraudulently taken from people whose assets it held in trust.
The trustee helps to care for Canberrans who, as a result of illness, accident or disability, must give someone else the power of attorney to make decisions on their behalf. The small office also administers estates of the deceased.
The matter was first referred to ACT Policing for investigation in January 2014.
A report on the alleged fraud by audit firm KPMG was not made public although the office’s latest annual report, published in October, revealed the extent of challenges within the organisation.
“In June 2015 the Public Trustee finalised the investigation of irregularities discovered in client financial accounts maintained under enduring power of attorney and under order of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal,” the report said.
“PTACT’s fraud/corruption mitigation strategy has been reviewed to incorporate KPMG’s recommendations.”
The internal review resulted in 15 new control measures to mitigate fraud risks including a review and upgrade of accounting software, codes of conduct, personnel change and the appointment of an independent chair.
All senior managers at the office were required to attend industry fraud and risk training seminars provided by KPMG and the Justice and Community Safety Directorate.
The risk management strategy was overhauled during the 2014-15 in collaboration with other state public trustees, with all staff now required to sign a staff code of conduct.
Credit: Michael Inman, Canberra Times