FRAUDSTER: Gail Janeen Donnelly (front in blue) playing polocrosse for Killarney.
FRAUDSTER: Gail Janeen Donnelly (front in blue) playing polocrosse for Killarney. Julia Eyers-Luck

Fraudster stole $139,818 from school to fund lifestyle

A QUEENSLAND polocrosse identity who fleeced $139,818 from the education department to fund her love of the sport and lavish lifestyle has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Silverdale woman Gail Janeen Donnelly, 49, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Ipswich District Court to fraud as an employee stemming from her time at Boonah State High School.

The court heard Donnelly used her position as the business services manager at the school to systemically steal money on more than 300 occasions between April, 2009 and June, 2014.

The money was used on items such as a bar fridge, gravel, vet bills, personal credit card debt, groceries, car registration, petrol, household bills, horse riding gear along with truck parts and tyres.

Donnelly also used money to install a hot water system in her house.

Crown prosecutor Noel Needham said Donnelly's role allowed her access to the school's credit card, cheque books and online banking facilities.

He said the offending only came to light after a new principal was appointed at the school.

"She made 12 fraudulent transactions totalling $40,478.12 using cheques which were deposited into a joint bank account and an account held in her maiden name," he said.

"She then attributed those payments through the 'One School' system to other departments within the school.

"She falsified the cheques after gaining the necessary signatures required for them."

Mr Needham said Donnelly fraudulently used the school's credit card on 299 occasions for personal use.

He said those transactions totalled a staggering $99,340.44.

"One again she used the 'One School' system to attribute those expenses to other departments within the school," he said.

"On 20 occasions she provided false invoices to justify the expenses and on 33 occasions she altered records in the school's accounting system to ensure it balanced correctly.

"There was a variety of deceitful and manipulative measures used in order to cover up the offending."

Mr Needham said the new principal called a meeting in June, 2014 after concerns were raised about accounting practices and missing money.

He said Donnelly finished the day but did not report to work the following morning and police listed her as a missing person for several days.

"When police searched her house in December, 2014 they located a number of items purchased on the school's dollar," he said.

"The money was essentially stolen to supplement her lifestyle and to feather her nest.

"Her offending left a massive hole in the school's budget and the impact is still being felt today.

"The money she diverted to herself meant the students at the school missed out."

Defence barrister Malcolm Harrison said Donnelly had cooperated with police and understood she was facing a jail sentence.

He tendered a medical report which claimed Donnelly had been bullied at the school and she had felt worthless in her role at not being able to earn the money to sustain her lifestyle.

"She comes from a sad background and that provides some background to the offending," he said.

"She was drip feeding herself money and was always bound to get caught.

"There is no doubt she used some of the money to fund her love of polocrosse."

Judge Greg Koppenol, in sentencing Donnelly to four-and-a-half-years behind bars, was scathing of her actions.

He said Donnelly had abused the trust of the school, its students and the community.

"Your fraudulent behaviour involved a disgraceful abuse of trust," he said.

"You offending was persistent and calculated and you took steps to conceal your criminality.

"You used public money allocated to the school to benefit its students to unashamedly fund your own lifestyle."

Donnelly will be eligible to apply for parole on November 10, 2017.

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