Mayor’s arrest takes council tally to 12
ONE of Queensland's biggest councils have been dragged into another major integrity crisis with the mayor of Ipswich hit with criminal charges involving fraud and a bicycle.
The arrest on Wednesday of Ipswich Mayor Andrew Antoniolli brings to 12 the number of people facing criminal allegations stemming from a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation into Ipswich City Council.
Cr Antoniolli has been charged by the CCC with seven counts of fraud, making him Ipswich's second successive mayor to face criminal allegations within a year.
The charges make Cr Antoniolli the fourth Queensland mayor to be investigated by the integrity watchdog in the past several months.
State Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe last night said he was "shocked and dismayed" by the charges.
He said he was seeking legal advice on what action the Government could take, but would not say if that included removing the council.
There was an expectation last night that administrators would be brought in should the advice indicate it was possible. The Courier-Mail understands many in Labor are pushing for the council to be sacked.
The CCC has been investigating several councils, with charges laid against Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor Chris Loft and Logan City Mayor Luke Smith.
Cr Loft is defending charges including official misconduct, while Cr Smith is battling corruption and perjury charges.
Cr Antoniolli, a former policeman turned career politician, came to the role last August after his popular predecessor Paul Pisasale was arrested initially on extortion claims and, months later, corruption allegations.
During Cr Antoniolli's election campaign, triggered by Pisasale's resignation, he promised an era of "accountability and transparency", but yesterday pledged to defend his own record after being escorted to the Ipswich city watch-house by plainclothes police.
"Let me be clear - I have never been involved in corrupt or criminal activity and I intend to fight these charges," he said in a statement.
The CCC said it would "allege the man utilised Ipswich City Council funds for his own use to purchase auction items from charitable organisations between 26 October 2011 and 20 May 2017".
Sources have confirmed for The Courier-Mail investigators quizzed a bike shop in recent weeks about Cr Antoniolli.
Another source close to local government said one charge relates to a bike - believed to have been bought by Antoniolli for about $5000 at an auction - found by the CCC.
It was last month reported in the Queensland Times that the CCC seized a bike, understood to have been stored at Antoniolli's old divisional office.
The council was at the time reported to be scrambling to audit and "properly collate and record" about a dozen items bought by Antoniolli over the past several years using his own or ratepayers' money.
Cr Antoniolli at the time acknowledged some items bought with council funds were not properly recorded - including a bike, worth about $500.
"I can put my hand on heart and say they've always been council property," he said at the time. Cr Antoniolli, 47, was raised in Ipswich and served as a policeman in Queensland from 1989 to 2000, becoming a senior constable and serving in the Ipswich district.
He became a councillor in March 2000 and took over the mayoral role in the by-election in August last year.
While not answering queries yesterday, he expressed in his statement his "disappointment and frustration".
"These charges will not define me," he said.
Antoniolli was bailed and is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on May 16.
Local Government Association of Queensland head Greg Hallam said the state could have a legal trigger to sack the Ipswich council and bring in administrators.
He was "gobsmacked" by the latest charges to rock local government and said the development as "extraordinary".
"This is uncharted territory," he said.
- additional reporting Patrick Billings
PISASALE STING LED TO 12 ARRESTS
TWELVE months ago, then Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale walked into Melbourne airport, carrying $50,000 in cash.
He was walking into a world of chaos that would envelop the major southeast Queensland council.
Now 12 people have been hit with 66 criminal charges stemming from a Crime and Corruption Commission probe of Ipswich council. They include Pisasale, once one of Australia's most popular politicians, Wayne Myers, a veteran businessman who boasted powerful political connections; and Sam Di Carlo, a brash high-profile barrister.
Yesterday, Ipswich's "Mr Clean" new mayor, former policeman and homegrown politician, Andrew Antoniolli, joined their ranks. Antoniolli was hit with seven fraud charges and vowed to defend the allegations.
Pisasale's encounter with federal police at Melbourne airport resulted in the $50,000 in cash being seized - it was not made public and he continued to serve for another month before resigning for what he described as health reasons.
Charges soon followed including extortion, and then later perjury, fraud, official corruption and possession of a generic sex-enhancing drug, all of which Pisasale indicated he would fight.
The top ranks of council employees have also been caught up. Carl Wulff, council's chief executive officer until 2013, and his partner Sharon Oxenbridge have been hit with multiple charges including taking $104,000 in bribes relating to council contracts.
Wulff has previously denied wrongdoing.
Wulff's successor was Jim Lindsay - who was himself arrested last year for allegedly agreeing to receive a corrupt payment connected with a council contract and development application. Ipswich chief operating officer of works, parks and recreation Craig Maudsley is on three misconduct charges.
Some charges for both Lindsay and Maudsley relate to Wayne Innes, an earthworks contractor for council. Innes himself is accused of crimes including official corruption.
Myers is accused of aiding Wulff to obtain a "sum of money" relating to Wulff facilitating a "fill services brokerage agreement".
Di Carlo is defending charges including perjury. He is alleged to have given to the CCC during a star chamber hearing false testimony about the Melbourne trip by Pisasale, and Pisasale's support for a Yamanto development with Melbourne connections.
No charges have been laid over the $50,000 seized at the airport.