Former Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli (left) leaving Ipswich Courthouse. Picture: Cordell Richardson
Former Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli (left) leaving Ipswich Courthouse. Picture: Cordell Richardson

Ex-mayor holds onto hope with court appeal

AFTER dark days, disgraced former Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli has a glimmer of hope with his legal team arguing to overturn his fraud convictions and jail sentence.

Antoniolli walked alone into Ipswich Courthouse on Thursday and sat silently in the District Court as his barrister Saul Holt QC made a 90-minute argument in an appeal application that focused on the findings of Magistrate Anthony Gett.

Mr Gett last June found Antoniolli guilty of 13 fraud related charges when in office as an Ipswich councillor that stem from community charity auctions.

He was convicted and when later sentenced in August received a six months jail wholly suspended for a period of 18 months.

"In large measure this appeal doesn't turn on fine detail of individual evidence but on the conclusion that can be drawn from that evidence," Mr Holt said.

Mr Holt did not dispute that Antoniolli attended auctions as a Division 7 councillor and arranged payment for successful bids through the use of the council's community development funds.

Mr Holt queried how Antoniolli could have been found to have personally benefited when items were never picked up or made their way into his possession, with some immediately gifted back to charity or re-purposed.

"Paintings were kept in his council office and a yellow bike was found rusting in his shed with the magistrate concluding that no one had ridden that bike," Mr Holt said.

"A gym membership he bid for in the form of a voucher was never used, never attempted to be used, or deployed at all."

Argument centred on the prosecution case being "fundamentally flawed", with Mr Holt saying a lot of weight was put on the proposition that it was asset acquisition in the guise of donation.

He said the community donations policy framework had been at the core of the prosecution case, and in the Magistrate's reasoning, bidding at auctions was a breach of this. He said policy documents were ambiguous regarding donations.

"Our submission is that there was little analysis by the magistrate or prosecution of what the policy was," he said.

Mr Holt said what was "absolutely critical" were findings by Mr Gett that Antoniolli had been given advice to use the funds from two chief executive officers, as well as then-mayor Paul Pisasale.

Mr Holt maintained council funds used in the charity auctions did "fit within the policy," with Antoniolli acting on the advice and guidance of two CEOs and Pisasale.

Mr Holt said Antoniolli was specifically told by the CEOs not to use the word 'auction' in any paperwork.

"The two CEOs had specifically approved their use this way and it was absolutely common accepted practice. This was not done in secrecy, but openly. It was the will of the council," he said.

An application was also made by Mr Holt for Antoniolli to appeal against the sentence in that it was manifestly excessive.

Mr Holt said"there was no greed, no indication of any personal gain or desire", and that what had been alleged was at the "absolute bottom end" of perceived criminality.

He agreed Antoniolli had breached a condition of bail (he previously pleaded guilty to that charge) when he visited the Ipswich City Council office and spoke to staff about his charges.

For that he was convicted with no further action.

The Crown prosecution case relied on its written argument in the submission by Sarah Farnden who maintained the guilty findings of the magistrate and sentence should stand.

She said even though other Ipswich councillors and mayor Paul Pisasale adopted similar practices and potentially committed offences, "it does not excuse the appellant (Antoniolli) from his conduct".

Judge Dennis Lynch QC reserved his decision to consider detailed written submissions.

No date was given for the appeal decision to be handed down.