ACT News

Canberra swim school boss goes on trial over fraud allegations

A Canberra woman accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a southside leisure centre by adding dozens of unearned hours to her daughter's timesheets has gone on trial in the ACT Supreme Court.

Judith McAllister, 62, pleaded not guilty to two counts of obtaining property by deception over allegations she fraudulently pocketed nearly $50,000 while she was employed at Lakeside Leisure Centre between 2006 and 2011.

A jury heard opening submissions in the case before Justice Richard Refshauge on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Katrina McKenzie told the court Ms McAllister began work as the swim school coordinator at the Tuggeranong pool complex in 2001. 

Her daughter began work as a casual employee at the centre, which was managed by Belgravia Leisure, under her mother's supervision in 2005. 

The following year, Ms McAllister began to add extra hours that her daughter hadn't worked to her timesheets, the court heard.

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The wages were paid into her daughter's bank account and she would then give her mother the extra earnings in cash. 

Later, Ms McAllister's daughter stopped working at the centre but her mother continued to submit timesheets in her name.

That money was then deposited into Ms McAllister's bank account.  

The court heard the alleged fraud became unstuck when Belgravia Leisure staff got a tip-off phone call and launched an investigation into the "ghost employee" in 2011. 

Ms McKenzie told jurors they would hear interviews in which Ms McAllister admitted she had filled in the timesheets with false details and gotten the extra cash from her daughter. 

In his opening address, defence barrister Anthony Williamson said it was true Ms McAllister had added extra hours to the timesheets and taken the money. 

But he argued she had been instructed to fill in the false details by her boss under an agreement designed to make up for a pay rise Ms McAllister felt she deserved, but never received, in 2008.

"You will hear she did what she did because she had express authorisation from her boss and was acting on his instructions to do that," he said. 

Mr Williamson said Ms McAllister grew uneasy after Belgravia Leisure took over management of the pool and there were changes to pay and working conditions in 2005. 

"[Ms McAllister] came to feel somewhat unhappy and under-appreciated, given she was working just as hard as she always had but her wages and conditions had dropped."

She was among other employees who had struck up similar agreements, even though her boss denied doing so to police, the court heard.

In his evidence, Belgravia Leisure's chief executive Adrian Johnston said he grew concerned when he looked at the pay history for Ms McAllister's daughter after the tip-off.

He noticed she no longer worked at the leisure centre and there had been a change in her banking details.

Mr Johnston said company emails indicated Ms McAllister had received a pay rise in 2008. 

Under cross-examination, Mr Williamson pressed Mr Johnston on why he had not further investigated the claim Ms McAllister's boss had approved similar arrangements with other staff. 

Mr Johnston said he accepted the man's denial of the allegations "at face value". 

The trial has been set down for four days.

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