A WARRNAMBOOL judge yesterday requested the Victoria Police chief commissioner be questioned about why a Hamilton thief took 10 years to get to court.
Former Southern Grampians Shire councillor and Australian Sports Medal recipient Barrie Thomas Struthers, 68, of Elmore Street, Hamilton, yesterday pleaded guilty to 40 charges of obtaining property by deception.
The thefts related to misappropriating $281,321.97 from 27 clients between 1992 and 2000 when Struthers was the officer manager with Hamilton accounting firm Witham, Cogger and Struck.
He was interviewed by police and made full admissions in September 2004.
Judge James Montgomery told the Warrnambool County Court yesterday he expected that the Director of Public Prosecutions John Champion, SC, would communicate with Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay about the way the case had proceeded.
He said the delay was extraordinary and the fact that such a file had been sitting in the back room of the Hamilton police station was incomprehensible.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.
Crown prosecutor Justin Lewis said the original police investigator went on extended WorkCover and an inspector-instigated audit in 2012 revealed the investigation had been recorded as completed. Investigations then recommenced.
Struthers started as office manager with Witham, Cogger and Struck in 1989 and held that position until his retirement on May 31, 2000.
His duties involved direct responsibility for internal office and practice administration, including the operation of trust accounts, and he was a signatory to all firm accounts.
He was also directly responsible for all client services for shearing contractors, GC and KM Templeton, Dunkeld Shearing Company and Jason Chandler.
Struthers also administered at call investments on behalf of clients held with the Trust Company of Australia and from 1990-91 had responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the Hamilton Public Cemetery Trust.
He created the WCS trust account of which the firm’s partners had no knowledge.
He also created the entities Hamilton Sports Promotion Committee and the Hamilton Cricket Development Group for the specific purpose of depositing misappropriated funds.
Struthers was the sole operator and signatory for the entities.
Between 1992 and 2000 Struthers made false entries in ledgers, on cheques and other accounting records to move funds into various trust accounts including his own and the WCS trust account.
He bought shares for himself and other family members, bought a vehicle for himself and another family member, paid tax and deposited funds in other family members’ personal accounts and bought shares.
Defence counsel Michael Turner said that in 2005 his client paid back $177,543 which included costs to out-of-pocket clients, including cashing in shares worth $118,000.
He said Struthers had spent a lifetime volunteering to a variety of Hamilton and district sporting and community organisations, was a life member of a large number of organisations and did not renominate as a Southern Grampians Shire councillor in 2002 when his offending became known.
Judge Montgomery adjourned the case for sentencing until 2pm on Monday.
He released Struthers on bail until then but told him to come prepared “to do some time” although the judge said he had not decided on an appropriate sentence.