Corrupt teacher does TAFE out of $21,000 for dog kennel

Thursday 10 June 2010

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that Garrie Cooper, a former head carpentry teacher at the Miller campus of the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) South Western Sydney Institute, and three contractors engaged in corrupt conduct by falsely claiming close to $21,000 in payments from TAFE for work on a large dog kennel complex.

In its Report on the use of TAFE funds to pay for work on a dog kennel complex, released today, the Commission has made corrupt conduct findings against Mr Cooper and contractors Anthony Fox, Keith Melia and Khai Van Tran in relation to the dog kennel work. It also finds Mr Cooper and another teacher under his supervision, Mark Wiseman, engaged in corrupt conduct by requesting and obtaining dummy quotes in relation to a pre-apprenticeship project at Macquarie Street, Greenacre, to falsely represent compliance with TAFE policy requiring a minimum of three quotes for work over $30,000.

Mr Wiseman also acted corruptly in failing to take action to report Mr Fox for falsely claiming payment from TAFE and approving payment for Mr Melia knowing that the invoices falsely claimed costs related to the supply and installation of eaves and framing.

The Commission is of the opinion that the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should be sought in relation to the prosecution of Mr Cooper for offences of concurring in the publishing of a false statement to obtain a benefit in relation to invoices for false claims for payment made to TAFE, and for giving false or misleading evidence to the ICAC.

The report notes that Mr Cooper wanted to breed greyhound dogs for racing. During 2006, he entered into an arrangement with a former racing dog trainer, Harry Sarkis, to build a dog kennel complex on Mr Sarkis' property in return for Mr Sarkis caring for and training Mr Cooper's greyhounds. Mr Cooper engaged Messrs Fox, Melia and Tran to work on the complex, and each of the contractors knew that the work was private and not related to any TAFE projects on which they were working.

When the contractors approached Mr Cooper for payment, he advised each of them to obtain payment from TAFE by claiming the cost against TAFE pre-apprenticeship projects in which they were involved. This resulted in TAFE paying the men $20,900 for the work on the privately-owned dog kennel complex. Mr Wiseman approved the payment for Mr Melia, despite knowing that the claim was false.
Mr Cooper also used TAFE students to unload rubbish at the work site, although they were not supposed to learn manual handling skills on private jobs organised by him. He also took a window from TAFE for his own use. "Mr Cooper's use of TAFE students and the window indicates an unacceptable attitude to the use of public resources and a preparedness to use those resources for his own benefit," the report says.

The Commission has made eight corruption prevention recommendations to the Department of Education of Training, of which TAFE is a division. The recommendations include that South Western Sydney Institute TAFE introduces a system whereby Finance Staff are required to record and report breaches of procurement policy to the Associate Director, Business Services.

The Commission also recommends that TAFE undertakes an audit of all teaching positions involved in procurement and where appropriate ensures that basic training in procurement is provided, and that duties are segregated so that teaching staff are not exercising end-to-end control, approval being obtained outside their faculty.

The Commission held a public inquiry as part of this investigation over two days in March 2010, at which Assistant Commissioner Theresa Hamilton presided and nine witnesses gave evidence.

Fact sheet

Investigation report