‘Healing has started’: Antoniolli addresses acquittal
FORMER Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli said “justice has ultimately been served” after his convictions for fraud were set aside last week.
Ipswich District Court Judge Dennis Lynch QC handed down his decision on Friday after upholding the appeal by Mr Antoniolli; acquitting him of all 13 fraud offences.
He had been found guilty by Magistrate Anthony Gett in June last year.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Antoniolli said the acquittal marked the end of a “tumultuous” two-and-a-half years for his family.
“My name has been now cleared, my integrity restored and justice has ultimately been served,” he said.
“It is hard to remain statesman like when so much has been taken away from you, but life is supposed to be an experience and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
“It may seem strange to some that such a negative season could bring some positives but my story is a testimony to the fact that each dark cloud can have silver linings.
“I continue to take courage from the positives that have come from this dark period.”
Mr Antoniolli said his church and Christian faith had been his “tower of strength” since he was first charged.
“My wife and my family have been amazing despite the fact that they too have had struggles and have suffered,” he said.
“My rock is my girls; their unfailing love and belief in me has helped sustain me.
“Right from the outset (my legal team) believed in me.
“So what does the future hold? I’m not positively sure but I know one thing … the healing has started and my passion for others has never waned.”
Mr Antoniolli was first charged by the Crime and Corruption Commission in May 2018 and in August that year, the State Government sacked the Ipswich’s serving councillors.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe exercised unchallengeable powers to remove the city’s elected representatives and put an administrator in their place.
The corruption watchdog charged 16 people with 91 criminal offences as of June last year as part of its probe into the Ipswich council; Operation Windage.
This included disgraced former mayor Paul Pisasale and former CEOs Jim Lindsay and Carl Wulff.
In September, Pisasale jailed for more than seven years for fraud, corruption and sexual assault he committed while in the city’s highest office.
The 69-year-old was sentenced by Ipswich District Court Judge Dennis Lynch for 35 criminal charges arising out of a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation, having previously pleaded guilty to 27 counts of fraud in the Brisbane District Court.
He will be eligible for parole in October 2022.
In February 2019 Carl Wulff, who by then had already spent 57 days in prison, was sentenced to a total of five years jail for two charges of corruption and one of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The sentence was suspended after he served 20 months.
Lindsay is yet to face trial over an official corruption charge.
The CCC report into its investigations was tabled in parliament in August 2018.
The report found a rotten culture had been allowed to fester for years.
It said the most serious manifestations of this were a lack of oversight and accountability for expenditure and public resources, the use of mechanisms to avoid scrutiny of actions, inappropriate relationships between the council and the private sector and the improper use of power and influence for personal benefit.
“This investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission into allegations of corruption by certain councillors and senior executive employees of the Ipswich City Council found that the ratepayers of that community were not well served by council members they had elected and employees whose salaries they paid,” CCC chairperson Alan MacSporran wrote.
Mr Antoniolli was acquitted last Friday, with Judge Dennis Lynch finding the magistrate had erred in ignoring the fact that Antoniolli at no point acknowleged he had done anything wrong by bidding on charity auctions or supporting payments from the community fund.
“The learned Magistrate found the appellant admitted knowing the donation policy was
“flawed for lack of transparency and accountability” and relied on this as one of the
reasons for his conclusion the appellant “exhibited dishonest intent”.
“This was presumably based upon the statements by the appellant to police. Reliance upon these statements as an admission ignores the context in which they were made,” Judge Lynch said in his findings.
“At no time did the appellant acknowledge that at the time he bid at charity auctions or supported payments from the CDF he believed he was doing anything wrong.
“Those statements, consistent with the evidence of the appellant in cross-examination, were no more than a reflection of the appellant’s state of mind after being informed by Mr Kellar that his view was the practice was outside policy and therefore not legitimate.
“The appellant at all times maintained he acted in accordance with the advice of the CEOs and which he genuinely believed to be correct.
“The use of the statements as an admission of knowledge of wrongdoing by the learned
Magistrate was factually wrong.”
Two years on, being sacked after almost 30 years in local politics still hurts for former rural councillor David Pahlke.
He still questioned the decision, especially after Mr Antoniolli’s acquittal.
“Two years on from sacking one mayor and 10 councillors now there’s no corruption charges or anything,” he said.
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“They changed the goalposts. This government has a lot to answer for.
“The CCC were bugging our phones, our emails and looking at our bank accounts. I know that because that’s what we were told.
“I couldn’t look at Pisasale’s emails or the CEOs’ emails or phones. I had no evidence at all.
“As a councillor I couldn’t interfere in operations. It’s a criminal offence.”
Mr Pahlke remains in Rosewood and said he still “proudly” walks down the main street.
He decided against running in the March election but believes he would have been voted in again.
Paul Tully and Sheila Ireland were returned to office after being sacked in 2018.
“How do I found justice two years later?” Mr Pahlke said.
“What’s the process, I don’t know.
“After 28 years it wasn’t a good way to go out. I was winding down, it was probably going to be my last term.
“I don’t feel angry. I feel disappointed and frustrated. I feel someone has got to be held accountable for making the wrong decision.
“I think the doors are shut.”
Fellow sacked councillor David Martin was only in office for ten months after winning a by-election in 2017.
He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in this year’s election.
“The court decision on Friday to clear Andrew of any charges is great news for Andrew and his family,” he said in a statement.
“Hopefully he can start to have some sort of normalcy again with his life, and begin to move on.
“I know first hand some of his pain as my wife and I were targeted, taunted and tarnished.
“This has caused unnecessary stress and trauma to us, our families and loved ones.”
He echoed Mr Pahlke’s statements and said the reputation and livelihoods of former councillors have been “tarnished”.
“The implications of Friday’s decision (means) that (the) State Government should never have dismissed (Ipswich City Council) on the basis of systemic corruption,” he said.
“The day after Andrew was charged Stirling Hinchliffe and the State Government were making plans to dismiss the whole (council).
“It was an injustice.
“I don’t know how that wrong is ever or could ever be righted. The city of Ipswich and former council is at the very least owed an apology.”
Mr Hinchliffe, who is now the Minister for Tourism, Industry Development and Innovation and the Minister for Sport, did not respond to the QT’s request for comment about Mr Antoniolli’s acquittal.
He told the QT on the eve of his decision in 2018 about why he made the call.
“I’ve been approached by, had letters from anonymous (sources), notes from conversations from a range of people who raise really serious, deep cultural problems with the council,” he said at the time.
“This is a deeper, broader issue in my belief that needs to be dealt with.
“(Mr MacSporran) has been quite consistent in his view that the only way to genuinely clean-up the Ipswich City Council practices and environment would be the removal of the councillors.”
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.