A civil dispute was heard this week between the former owner of Gympie Regional Realty Margaret Cochrane and her rental manager, Debra Mason.
A civil dispute was heard this week between the former owner of Gympie Regional Realty Margaret Cochrane and her rental manager, Debra Mason.

Claims of ‘secret’ credit card in bitter civil case

ALLEGATIONS of misusing a company debit card and unpaid termination money have dragged the former owner of Gympie Regional Realty and her one-time property manager into a civil dispute.

Former rental manager Debra Mason is pursuing more than $22,000 she alleges is owed under the terms of her exit contract signed in June last year.

The lawyers for Gympie Regional Realty and its owner Margaret Cochrane claim this contract should be terminated.

In a civil and administrative tribunal hearing in the Gympie Magistrates Court this week, they alleged Ms Mason used company money paid on to a Visa debit card issued in her name to make purchases unrelated to the business.

The civil complaint was heard in Gympie Magistrates Court this week.
The civil complaint was heard in Gympie Magistrates Court this week.

Ms Cochrane told the tribunal she had been unaware of the card's existence and, rather than agree to paying Ms Mason out, she would have sacked her instead had she known.

The tribunal heard this week that following an investigation and full audit into the card and its use by police, no criminal charges were laid against Ms Mason.

Under cross examination by Ms Cochrane's lawyers, Ms Mason said the Visa card was issued to her when she joined the business in 2011.

A similar card had previously been issued to her predecessor, she said.

Money on the account tied to the card came from $44 commissions; these were paid by service company Direct Connect whenever new rental customers were referred to the company.

A debit card issued in Ms Mason’s name is at the centre of the dispute; police investigations of fraud over the use of the card resulted in no criminal charges being laid.
A debit card issued in Ms Mason’s name is at the centre of the dispute; police investigations of fraud over the use of the card resulted in no criminal charges being laid.

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The tribunal heard records from the past three years showed payments to businesses including Pizza Hut, the Decks on Mary, Coles, the Victory Hotel, and even payments made in Maroochydore and Sydney.

Ms Mason denied the card was solely for her use and personal benefit, telling the tribunal "it was used by everyone in the office".

She denied the card had been kept secret.

"(It) was kept in the top drawer of my desk, our out the front (of the office) if I wasn't there," she said.

Gympie Regional Realty was sold in June this year.
Gympie Regional Realty was sold in June this year.

Ms Mason said it was used to buy business supplies, but other purchases like Christmas gifts and lunches for the office staff were also charged to the card.

Ms Cochrane's lawyers claimed none of the Direct Connect payments received on the card's account "were ever accounted for" by Ms Mason.

Ms Mason said in response the records of the payments were contained on the forms signed by new tenants, which were all filed with the business; financial statements were sent to the company's accounting department.

Ms Cochrane told the tribunal the accounts department said records of the Direct Connect commissions were emailed to Ms Mason.

However, none of the company's financial books were tendered as evidence by either party to Magistrate Chris Callaghan, who heard the dispute.

Questions were also asked about Ms Mason's termination contract.

Magistrate Chris Callaghan heard the tribunal. He is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks.
Magistrate Chris Callaghan heard the tribunal. He is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks.

It was signed by two people, Graham Engeman and Steve Evans, allegedly on behalf of Ms Cochrane.

Ms Cochrane told the tribunal she was in Melbourne and contacted by Mr Engeman when Ms Mason asked to leave.

Ms Cochrane told the tribunal she thought Ms Mason was only going to be given a $25,000 payout, not the $38,000 that was ultimately agreed to.

And it was only after this agreement was signed that she became aware of the Visa card and the questions about its use.

"I first saw that card when (property manager) Jason Margetts said "you need to know about the card"," Ms Cochrane said.

Neither Mr Engeman nor Mr Evans were called to testify.

Ms Cochrane sold the business in June this year.

Mr Callaghan, who presided over the hearing, told the parties he would issue his ruling on the dispute in the next few weeks.

Gympie Times

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