Former mayor accused of pocketing council money
A former Ipswich mayor accused of dishonestly using ratepayer funds at charity events says bullies manipulated the council’s culture and money for community donation was regularly misused.
Andrew Francis Antoniolli, 48, is charged with 12 counts of fraud and one count of attempted fraud for allegedly using Ipswich City Council money to buy items and services for his own use.
The charges come after a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation that led to the sacking of the entire council in 2018.
Antoniolli allegedly used the council funds to purchase items at charity auctions and community events between 2005 and 2017, while he was a councillor and mayor. He denies all the charges.
The items include a $5000 Trek bicycle, various artworks, a gym membership and two ladies pamper packs.
Defence lawyer Peter Callaghan SC said some of the items were not collected and others were left at the council chambers or re-gifted to other community groups.
Although the bike was found at Antoniolli’s house, it had never been ridden, Mr Callaghan said.
During a CCC interview, replayed for Ipswich Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Antoniolli told investigator Detective Sergeant Saskia Toohey he knew the council’s community donations policy was being abused.
“The policy (was) flawed, the policy (had) a very low degree of transparency and accountability,” he said during the interview in 2017.
“We just crept so far away from what is reasonable … how did we get to (that) spot without someone pulling us back in?”
When asked about the scale of the misuse of funds, Antoniolli said “certain customs and practices by certain people became regular practice”.
“We had a culture within this council that (was) governed by two particular people … it (was) highly manipulated and they had an enormous degree of control,” he said.
“There (were) high-powered bullies in (the) organisation.”
Antoniolli said the misuse of the council money became a method for supporting charities and community groups.
But it also created a situation where the council was viewed as a “perennial cash-cow”.
He bought a bat signed by the Queensland cricket team at a charity auction before donating it to another auction and then re-purchasing it for $500 – all using council funds.
“I don’t believe I’ve made a misstep …what I know is I still have a very high degree of integrity I guard greatly … sorry, was that my Clive Palmer moment?” he asked Detective Sergeant Toohey during the interview.
Crown prosecutor Sarah Farnden said Antoniolli had successfully bid on items at 12 charity auctions and community events using the council funds.
“He didn’t use his own money to purchase the items he had bid on but instead requested a payment be made to the organisation from the community donation fund through the Ipswich City Council,” she told the court.
“The Crown case is that it’s not the donation under the ordinary meaning of that word or under any of the council procedures in place at the time.”
Callaghan said in each case the council’s money went to community groups.
The trial continues.