How corruption flourished in Ipswich
Carl Wulff, a crooked top bureaucrat at one of Queensland's booming cities, handed over a piece of paper outlining a cover story. He needed to trick the investigators.
"I can't afford to go into jail," Wulff murmured to his partner in corruption, veteran Queensland businessman Wayne Myers.
It was September 2017 and the pair were meeting at the Glen Hotel in Brisbane's southside suburb of Eight Mile Plains.
It's a glorious old-style pub, with big airy decks for dining, and steaks selling from $24.90 and pots of beer for about $6.
Wulff was trying to get Myers to agree on a version of a phony consulting arrangement used to channel $115,500 in bribes while serving as Ipswich City Council's chief executive officer.
Unknown to Wulff that day, investigators were secretly watching. Myers had turned double agent, wearing a recording device to lessen any punishment about to splatter his once-storied corporate career.
Both men were jailed in February after pleading guilty to corruption - their arrests among a spectacular string of charges following a Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) investigation into Ipswich.
INGREDIENTS FOR CORRUPTION
The city, just west of Brisbane, has 200,000 residents and the population rose 16.1 per cent in five years. It's a region targeted by developers chasing big profits from rezoned land and contractors cashing in.
These conditions - along with the wrong people - help chart how businesses can bribe their way into government work.
It's a mixture of cash, fake contracts and oiled up connections stretching from Ipswich golf courses to an Italian wedding.
Corruption shouldn't be a big problem in Australia. We rank 13 out of 180 on Transparency International's global index.
Yet occasionally, big cases erupt: Queensland's former Health Minister Gordon Nuttall spent six years in jail for corrupt payments. According to the CCC's annual report, 38 people were charged last financial year with corruption-related offences, although this can include misuse of confidential information.
There's also the potentially lucrative private-sector crime. A 2017 Deloitte survey of Australian and New Zealand organisations found one in five detected local corruption (often undeclared conflicts of interest - but supplier kickbacks and bribery also lurked).
Brisbane-based Chris Noble, a Deloitte Forensic managing partner, told QBM several typical flags can appear.
Corruption can occur in an area of rapid economic growth, with people suffering financial stress and include deep social relationships so both crooked parties develop trust. Culprits might rationalise their actions and can be charismatic or endearing communicators.
Myers, 64, fits that last point. He was an old-school networker, a telecommunications executive who became great mates of now deceased State Treasurer Terry Mackenroth and was controversially appointed to boards of Government-backed entities. Myers also was a lobbyist and socialised with political figures even in 2017.
But around 2011, according to a statement of facts tendered in their court case and obtained by QBM, Myers met businessman Wayne Innes at a conference in Thailand. Innes was a former NSW cop running a business plugging holes with landfill. Innes allegedly thought he could legitimately provide landfill cheaply, but needed an "in" at Ipswich.
The court documents state: "Innes attached himself to (Myers) at this conference, asking him if he had any connections."
Myers did. He got to know Wulff, 67, shortly after the orange-toupee-wearing bureaucrat became council CEO in 2006. They would play golf and dine out.
The dirty business started with one council contract, where Wulff slipped Myers an expression of interest. "This is a huge opportunity, and Innes will pay me big time if I can be seen to get him work with ICC," Myers allegedly told Wulff.
"Wulff took that to mean Myers would share any benefits with him. Wulff says he was attracted to the opportunity because he was in a precarious financial position at the time," the document says.
Wulff, along with statuesque wife Sharon Oxenbridge, had debts. The Global Financial Crisis had worsened their situation, while their Noodle Box franchise was "struggling".
The court heard the bribes eventually worked like this: contractor Innes paid money to middle-man Myers, who passed on a portion to Wulff and Oxenbridge's company Bojangles. On the surface, Myers' company hired Oxenbridge as a consultant. The arrangement, however, was a sham.
A separate sham consultancy was established with Ipswich flood works contractor Claude Walker, who had grown close to Wulff since 2003, when both men were at other jobs.
"The Walkers attended the wedding of Wulff and Oxenbridge in Italy and they holidayed together in Phuket," the court statement of facts state.
By 2011, Walker contacted his council mate Wulff in securing work repairing flood damage. Walker ended up pocketing $2500 a day, plus airfares, accommodation and transport. He even rented Wulff's upmarket apartment, which council reimbursed.
The first graft was $2500 in an envelope in 2012. "(Walker) let Wulff know that if there was any way that he could help him further he would be happy to do so," the statement of facts says.
Walker later wired $5500 monthly to Bojangles to cover Oxenbridge's fake consultant bills.
Nearly a decade on, Innes is facing corruption charges but is yet to enter a plea. Meanwhile, Wulff, Oxenbridge and Myers have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 5 years, 3 years and 2.5 years in jail respectively, although they are appealing.
Also sentenced to three years jail is Walker, whose parting moment with his wife was to hand over his watch before being escorted to his new austere life.
- Set right management tone, such as articulating no tolerance for graft.
- Communicate this tone through organisation, such as setting up whistleblower hotlines.
- Assess risks, including examining your third-party dealings.
- Source: Deloitte Forensic