11 Mar 2014

Principal accused of misusing funds

12:39 pm on 11 March 2014

The principal of a low-decile primary school in South Auckland is accused of using school money to pay for flights to Australia. Colleen Margaret Gray and her husband Bruce Kenneth Gray have denied charges of dishonestly using documents and using forged documents.

Mrs Gray was the principal of Mayfield Primary School in Otara and is accused of using a variety of techniques to take money from the school, including using her husband's companies to funnel cash into her accounts.

Crown prosecutor Steve Symon told the Auckland District Court on Monday that the Ministry of Education uses a payment system called management units that are paid to teachers who work outside their normal teaching duties. He said Mrs Gray submitted invoices to the school for various teachers, but the invoices were payable to Mr Gray's companies.

Mr Symon said none of the money ever went to the teachers named on the invoices and instead there was evidence to show that the money went from Mr Gray's company to Mrs Gray's account.

Mr Symon said it was inappropriate for Mrs Gray to be signing off on payments to her husband's companies and alarm bells should have been ringing. He said when the school was audited, Mrs Gray produced receipts from teachers who shared the last names of teachers at Mayfield but their first names had been changed.

Mr Symon said the ruse was designed to throw the auditors off the scent but unfortunately for the Grays, police did follow up checks.

The Crown also said there was inappropriate use of the school credit card. Mr Symon said Mrs Gray used the school credit card to buy things like a meal at a restaurant in Mission Bay and flowers in Parnell. She then also submitted expense forms to the school so, in effect, the school paid twice.

Mr Symon said Mrs Gray also travelled for the Principals Association. But he said that when the association reimbursed her for Koru Club parking, which the school had paid for, Mrs Gray kept the money for herself. Mr Symon described that as double-dipping.

He said there were also flights paid for by the school. Mrs Symon used the school credit card and school checks to pay for flights to Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. On one occasion, the money was transferred from the bulk funding account which the Education Ministry pays money into to run the school. Mr Symon said one of the flights was for Mr Gray to fly to Wellington. The invoice stated the flight was for professional development but Mr Symon said Mr Gray never worked for the school.

Mr Symon said the total figure taken was in the range of $35,000. He said while that was not a huge amount of money in a fraud case, it meant a lot for a low-decile school in Otara.

The pair's lawyer, John Tannahill, elected not to make an opening statement on Monday.

The hearing before Judge Rob Ronayne alone is set down for a week.