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Embezzler was still on State Government books

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State Government justification for how it employed a convicted embezzler as a FamiliesSA financial counsellor appears to be undermined by new information.

Education Minister Jennifer Rankine and her department Chief Executive Tony Harrison have previously stated that 32-year-old Melissa Green had been a temporary employee, who secured a permanent position in the department without disclosing her embezzlement conviction.

“My understanding is that this woman commenced at Families and Communities on a contract on about August 2010,” Harrison told FIVEaa on 23 August last year.

“She was then given a permanent job with the department after a merit selection process.”

Rankine acknowledged Green’s previous public employment up until December 2006, when she “commenced employment with a private business”.

“Prior to commencing employment with Families SA in 2010, Ms Green submitted a clearance application. There is no record that pending criminal charges were disclosed at that time,” Rankine told InDaily in August last year.

However, InDaily can reveal that Green was not a temporary employee.

In fact, she remained in permanent public employment from early 2001, including the period of approved leave when she worked for a private business, through until Harrison ordered her termination in October 2013.

The termination resulted from an investigation launched after InDaily revealed her promotion to financial counsellor, despite having pleaded guilty in 2010 to 16 charges of embezzlement relating to the theft of $118,000.

Responding this week to InDaily’s queries arising out of 110 pages of just released Freedom of Information documents, a spokesman for Green’s former Department (Communities and Social Inclusion) stated; “Ms Green was never ‘re-employed’. Despite some periods of leave, she maintained an ongoing position with the department until October 2011.”

Green’s FamiliesSA office and position transferred to the Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) in October 2011, giving her 12 years of continuous services as a government employee, with periods of approved leave.

The FoI documents also show that during her 12 years in public employment, Green had been found guilty of 23 serious misconduct charges.

They include 17 instances of “disgraceful and/or improper conduct”, five matters of “failure to notify the Chief Executive of offences punishable by imprisonment and one matter of “failing to comply with directions”.

After a disciplinary inquiry in 2007 into the 23 misconduct charges, the then-Department for Families and Communities decided to “assign Ms Green to an alternate role within the Department”.

It was while she was on approved leave from the department that Green committed theft offences against a private sector employer totalling $118,000. She was charged in relation to 16 offences, convicted and sentenced to 15 months jail.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, and with the written support of three colleagues at FamiliesSA, Green’s sentence was suspended and she resumed her public employment.

It was only when InDaily revealed on 20 August that she had been promoted to a job as financial counsellor in FamiliesSA while awaiting sentence on the embezzlement charges that her employment history was re-assessed.

Green was sacked in October 2013.

A separate inquiry was launched into the references that had been provided by FamiliesSA staff to the Supreme Court, stating the department supported Green in her ongoing rehabilitation, a key reason for the Judge’s decision to suspend the jail sentence.

InDaily had been told by Harrison’s spokeswoman that an investigation reviewed the circumstances surrounding the support by the Department for Green’s employment.

We now understand, from Education Department sources, that the investigation has been much broader.

InDaily asked the Education Department to confirm the scope of the investigation

“The DECD investigation is now complete and an adjudication process is under way. We have no further comment while this process is under way,” it responded.

In a second statement late Monday, DECD chief executive Tony Harrison said the investigation had become “comprehensive”.

“The reason I instigated a comprehensive investigation was to ensure all related matters are examined thoroughly.

“As a conclusion to this matter is imminent we have no further comment at this point in time.”

InDaily has confirmed that Green’s colleagues, Bianca O’Brien and Jenna Kovacs, who had provided support for Green’s employment, have been transferred from the Elizabeth office of FamiliesSA, (where they had worked with Green) to offices at Enfield (Kovacs) and Blair Athol (O’Brien).

The FoI documents received by InDaily reveal a long tale of misconduct by Green.

Green, 32, completed year 10 at high school after which she commenced work in the hospitality industry before moving into the public service in early 2001.

Her conduct problems began shortly after. She was charged with the public service offence of disgraceful/improper behaviour in relation to events that occurred in:

Other offences included 17 September 2002 to 25 November 2005; four counts of failing to advice the Chief Executive that she had been charged with an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment and on 25 November 2005, that she allowed information to be placed before a Magistrate which she knew to be false.

It had been a rocky ride for Green.

In 2002 she was convicted twice for driving whilst disqualified and received a suspended prison sentence of 14 days on each occasion; in 2003 she was sentenced again for driving whilst disqualified and received a suspended six week prison sentence; and in 2005 was convicted for the fourth time of driving whilst disqualified and on this occasion she was sentenced to a two month term of imprisonment but placed on a suspended sentence bond.

It wouldn’t be enough to lose her job.

At a disciplinary hearing on 27 September 2007 the Department of Families and Communities’ Executive Director of Financial Services, Joe Ullianich “considered it was untenable for Green to return to her previous role” and he recommended to the then-Director Human Resources, Natalie Hamood that Green be “assigned to an alternate role within the Department.”

In a ministerial briefing on Green’s career in the department (sought after the InDaily revelations of 20 August”, department head Joslene Mazel told her Minister (Tony Piccolo) that Green remained an employee until 21 October 2011 “when Machinery of Government changes, at which time FamiliesSA moved to the Department of Education and Child Development”/

Her personnel file went to the new department.

In mid-2012 Green was promoted to a position as a financial counsellor within the Families SA Financial Counselling and Support Program.

There was a cloud, however, hanging over her head.

While on approved leave from the public service in 2006 Green had taken a job at an Adelaide software firm as an administration manager.

She was arrested in December 2009 after police investigated the finances of her private sector employer after concerns raised by a co-worker.

She pleaded guilty on 5 November 2010 to 16 counts of theft relating to the embezzlement of $118,978 from her employer between February 2006 and December 2009.

Having exhausted her private sector employment prospects, Green would find a way to resume her still-current status as public servant and started work back at Housing SA in February 2010, just six weeks after the embezzlement revelations.

Soon after, she was offered a Social Work Traineeship with Families SA (DECD) in the High Risk Infant Department.

In mid-2012, while still on remand for the 16 embezzlement charges and having pleaded guilty, Green was promoted to Financial Counsellor in DECD’s financial counselling and support program.

When her embezzlement case came up for sentencing in January 2013, the Magistrate sentenced her to 15 months’ jail – a decision Green appealed on the basis the sentence should be suspended.

It was then that her FamiliesSA colleagues became referees for her rehabilitation and the need for her to be able to continue in her employment.

On 24 July this year the appeal judge suspended the sentence and Green’s now 12 year career in the public service continued.

“It would seem that, given her history (which is known to her employer) the appellant has been extremely fortunate in being able to secure this particular career path with Families SA and the educational opportunities that are now available to her that will serve to promote that career path,” Judge Nicholson said.

When InDaily queried Education Minister Rankine in August last year on why her department had supported Green, Rankine said: “There is no record of her (Green) informing the department about charges laid against her, as is required”.

The investigation into her immediate work colleagues and “other Human Resources staff ” may have found otherwise.

Several lists of questions InDaily sent to the Minister and to the Department seeking clarification of apparent contradictions in the Green matter remain unanswered.

Shadow Education Minister David Pisoni said today Minister Rankine needed to explain why the processes in her Department “are so poor that the Department only becomes aware of employees  criminal convictions if the employee decides to inform the Department about the offence”.

“This case confirms Steven Marshall’s decision to move Families SA out of the Education Department is  the right first step in fixing the dysfunction.”

 

 

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