Downfall of Mr Ipswich is complete

WHEN Paul Pisasale was dancing with daughter Lisa back in March 2016, the Ipswich mayor had a lot to smile about - he had just notched up ­another stunning election victory.

In fact, the buoyant mayor had romped back into office, obliterating any competition with over 80 per cent of the vote and reaffirming his position as one of Australia's most popular politicians

Making his popularity rating all the more remarkable, the long-time mayor had just surfaced from a corruption probe into his donations triggered by a series of media reports.

"Those grubs out there that tried to hurt the city, they'll get their own punishments," he then said.

"Let's just get on with the job and tell the world - tell everybody - what a great city Ipswich is."

But yesterday, it was Pisasale facing up to his punishment.

He had appeared as a witness during his seven-day criminal trial to explain how he had believed he was acting legally by asking for money from the ex-boyfriend of a Chinese escort he met in 2017.

 

Paul Pisasale (third from left) celebrates his mayoral victory in 2016 with daughter Lisa, son James and other supporters.
Paul Pisasale (third from left) celebrates his mayoral victory in 2016 with daughter Lisa, son James and other supporters.

 

But ultimately, the jury did not accept his explanation, finding he had committed extortion.

Downcast and slow-moving, the 67-year-old yesterday cut a vastly different figure to the once ultra-popular mayor with bountiful energy ready to jump in front of the cameras at any opportunity.

He slowly moved out of the court into custody to await sentencing today.

His immediate family - wife Janet and adult children - were not in court for the verdict.

But at least one supporter was - a moustached man in a black leather jacket called out: "We love you Paul" as he was led away, before quietly muttering "bugger".

It was a small example of the ­former mayor's old popularity - he pulled off four consecutive terms as mayor with a stunning approval rating that averaged over 85 per cent of the vote. Pisasale was first elected to Ipswich council in 1991, becoming deputy in 2000 and mayor in 2004.

He became untouchable, winning over locals with his "common man" and "larrikin" persona.

 

Paul Pisasale in the Ipswich mayoral robes
Paul Pisasale in the Ipswich mayoral robes

 

In that time, Ipswich's development was rapid, with massive masterplanned communities such as Springfield and ­Ripley Valley springing up.

But it was also home to battler suburbs.

Despite clinching another enviable election victory in 2016, Pisasale's troubles were only beginning.

In April 2017, the Crime and Corruption Commission held a series of public hearings as part of its Operation Belcarra looking at donations that rolled in during the 2016 election.

Pisasale was forced to appear at the hearings that month.

But unknown to the then mayor, he had already been under surveillance by corruption officials.

The CCC had been intercepting his phone calls for three months between January and March 2017 as part of their top-secret Operation Windage probe into Ipswich council.

What they were to discover was a series of astonishing events in which Pisasale posed as a private investigator to extort the ex-boyfriend of Chinese escort Yutian Li, who had just met.

 

A hospitalised Paul Pisasale resigns as mayor in June 2017 amid a corruption investigation.
A hospitalised Paul Pisasale resigns as mayor in June 2017 amid a corruption investigation.

 

Those phone calls only became public during his trial this week and paint a disturbing picture of the mayor's private activities out of the public eye.

In one call, he discusses Li, who he had met for a massage that included sexual services.

"Oh the first night I f----d her was good, but she's so naive," he tells barrister friend Sam Di Carlo during the call, adding that there were "good photos of her".

Pisasale explained his later actions, in which he posed as a private investigator to demand $10,000 from Li's ex-boyfriend, saying he was just trying to help a "heartbroken" woman with no friends.

But prosecutors said Pisasale was motivated by a desire to fund Li's continued stay in Australia.

Months later, in June 2017, investigators pounced with a series of raids. Pisasale's two-storey home in the quiet suburb of Brassall was searched, along with his car and council office - home to his oft-photographed collection of espresso sets.

A day later, he would resign at a press conference in a hospital wearing a gown and socks.

 

Paul Pisasale arrives at Brisbane District Court yesterday to be found guilty of extortion. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP
Paul Pisasale arrives at Brisbane District Court yesterday to be found guilty of extortion. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

 

He cited health concerns, but it would soon emerge the mayor had earlier been stopped at Melbourne airport carrying $50,000 cash as a favour for a friend. Pisasale is not facing any charge over the $50,000.

His lawyer Lincoln Crowley yesterday told the court the June search warrants were the first time Pisasale had been spoken to by police and set off a "stress reaction".

He mentioned Pisasale's multiple sclerosis, and said the events led to a "mental reaction" that led to a stay in a New Farm mental health clinic as he was "unable to cope".

Pisasale remains on antidepressants and mood stabilisers, he told the court.

Mr Crowley said his issues were a "culmination of all that period of time working those long hours, not looking after his health", saying friends had warned him he was "working too hard".

He told the court that about 100 people had ­provided references.

He also faces other court matters.



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