Four men accused of ACT Public Trustee's office theft appear in court

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, 37, of Bonython, and Donald Tawanda Savanhu, 36, of Ngunnawal, did not enter pleas when they appeared, and their matters were adjourned until December.

The matter was first referred to ACT Policing for investigation in January 2014, and the quartet was last month charged 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."

James Maher, who represents Evans, said his client had consistently denied any wrongdoing and would be defending the allegations in court.

"It is regrettable that because of unexplained delays in the police investigation my client has had a cloud of allegations hanging over him for longer than is reasonable," Mr Maher said.

"We expect the DPP to disclose the full brief of evidence within the timeframe set by the court today."

The ACT Public Trustee administers estates of the deceased, and the funds of Canberra's most vulnerable, including people who are unable to manage their own affairs due to disability, illness or age.

The small government agency, which has fewer than 30 staff, last month revealed 87 clients had been repaid more than $1.7 million, including interest, and it had overhauled risk management strategies after it discovered the money had allegedly been fraudulently taken from people whose assets it held in trust.

In March last year, The Canberra Times revealed the office had stood down two staff as a result of the alleged fraud.

In February, the office reported a staff member had been sacked and a second quit.

A report on the alleged fraud by audit firm KPMG has not made public although the office's latest annual report, published in October, revealed it had overhauled its fraud and corruption mitigation strategy to incorporate recommendations.

An internal review prompted the introduction of 15 new control measures to minimise fraud risks, including a review and upgrade of accounting software, codes of conduct, and the appointment of an independent chair.

All senior managers at the office also attended industry fraud and risk training seminars.

Michael Inman is a courts reporter for The Canberra Times

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