FORMER Worn Gundidj Co-op finance officer Jennifer Lowe threatened to “bring down” the organisation’s former chief executive after she was accused of misconduct, a court heard yesterday.
The claim, made by current co-op manager Shannon Collyer, was part of Mr Collyer’s evidence from the witness box on day two of the contested hearing into Mrs Lowe and her husband Robert in Warrnambool Magistrates Court. Mrs Lowe and Mr Lowe face 343 and 276 charges respectively in relation to the alleged misappropriation of funds during their time working at the co-op.
Mrs Lowe, a former Warrnambool City councillor, was supported in court by Crs Brian Kelson, Peter Hulin and Peter Sycopoulis. Aboriginal elders Geoff Clark and Rob Lowe Snr — Robert Lowe’s father — were also there.
Mr Collyer came under fire during cross-examination, with defence lawyer Damian Sheales alleging Mr Collyer and his late father John Collyer had rorted the co-op, calling into question their own integrity. Crown prosecutor Daniel Porceddu opened proceedings in Warrnambool Magistrates Court yesterday by questioning Shannon Collyer and working through some of the estimated 27,000 documents to be entered as evidence.
These included fuel card statements, mobile phone records, Worn Gundidj employee and client records, petty cash reconciliation documents, and receipts and invoices which the prosecution alleges is the trail of evidence left by the Lowes.
Mr Collyer told the court he had become suspicious of Mrs Lowe due to a number of factors including taking three-hour lunch breaks, being seen entering Warrnambool City Council chambers when supposedly off work due to illness, undermining the co-op’s attempts to gain funding, and “rumours there was something going on with the books”.
The court heard Mr Collyer uncovered what he claimed were discrepancies in co-op fuel card and mobile phone usage, as well as numerous questionable purchases using petty cash, which he alleged to be linked to Mrs Lowe.
These purchases included sheets, quilts, tables, magazines, a DVD/VCR player, mattresses, cushions, a ladder, laundry hampers, rugs, vases, candles, a pedestal fan, a world globe, and pantyhose — all items Mr Collyer said he had never seen at any of the Worn Gundidj Co-op offices or sites. He also raised issues with the way some of them were paid for and when they were purchased, saying they didn’t match accepted or regular co-op practices.
He told the court that when Mrs Lowe was asked about these matters, she “made threats that she knows how my father operates and will bring this place down”.
In cross examination, Mr Sheales claimed the Collyers had doctored the minutes of a meeting to hide remuneration figures they were receiving, and that Shannon Collyer had been the recipient of a number of items, including a $700 suit, paid for by the co-op.
Mr Sheales also asked Mr Collyer what investigations he had made into his late father invoicing the co-op for $43,000 for consultancy works, despite being a full-time employee of the co-op at the time.
“I suggest you knew your father was rorting the co-op,” Mr Sheales put to Mr Collyer, also adding that Mr Collyer was either “a secretary, a treasurer or a director” of his father’s consultancy business.
The hearing is expected to last for three-and-a-half weeks.