Qld principal admits fraud but not greed | Northern Beaches Review

A 31-year-old Queensland principal defrauded the government and students of almost $64,000 over half a decade, but in a “most unusual case” he was not motivated by greed or personal gain.

Instead, John Leonard Webster used an Education Department credit card to buy an iPhone later donated to his daughter, fitness trackers for staff, gifts for Japanese dignitaries and raffle prizes as skydiving experiments, the Brisbane Magistrates’ Court heard on Friday.

The 100 transactions worth about $29,000 were for a bilingual Japanese curriculum that Webster had developed at the Brisbane school where he worked.

The program involved reciprocal tours between Australia and Japan.

The 60-year-old also accepted cash – amounting to around $35,000 – from students on annual tours of Japan for which he gave no receipts and did not able to account for expenses.

Webster was the headmaster of Wellers Hill State School in the Brisbane suburb of Tarragindi, earning up to $155,000 a year at the time.

The fraud totaling $63,943 came to light in 2018 when parents complained to the Department of Education.

The court was told that Webster did not benefit financially from the offenses, but they were for his benefit.

Webster also admitted to approving sick leave for his wife Suzette Maree Webster – a teacher at his school – despite knowing she was not sick.

Prosecutor Zachary Kaplan said Webster “treated public funds like his own personal expense account” over five years.

He told court detectives he found nearly $10,000 in currency at Webster’s during a search as part of their investigation in 2019.

But Webster’s attorney Craig Eberhardt argued Webster’s case was “extraordinary” because it was not motivated by greed or personal enrichment.

The charges relate to Webster’s failure to follow fund policy and accounting, Eberhardt argued.

He provided numerous references paying tribute to Webster, as around 30 supporters filled the courtroom, some standing in the aisle, during the proceedings.

Mr. Eberhardt said the credit card purchases were overwhelmingly not for the benefit of Webster.

They included skydiving tickets distributed to staff on a personal development day and gifts and excursions for Japanese guests, as this was expected in their culture.

The money was “openly solicited from parents” and used for incidentals and tips when it was not always possible to get a receipt and he could not account for the money, a said Mr. Eberhardt.

“This is not a case where he set out to steal money from these people…let alone profit from fraud,” he added.

“His offense was not motivated by greed or personal gain.”

When sentencing Webster, Acting Magistrate Patrick Murphy said it was a “most unusual case”.

Mr. Murphy said he accepts that Webster’s motivation is to enrich the experiences and opportunities of students and his school.

“While his offense is regrettable, it seems to me that the motivation behind the offense was his vision…more than any personal reward,” he added.

He sentenced Webster to two and a half years behind bars with a full reprieve for three years.

He also placed Webster on good behavior bond for the sick leave fraud.

Webster – who resigned last year after being removed from his post in December 2018 – was ordered to pay the full amount of restitution.

Suzette Webster has been placed on bail after admitting taking sick leave to attend Melbourne Cup Day functions and traveling interstate with her husband.

The couple were charged after an investigation by the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

Australian Associated Press

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