The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption on Wednesday said former Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) project manager Steven Prestage engaged in serious corrupt conduct while working at the agency.
ICAC found that Prestage concocted an elaborate scheme that involved hijacking the name of his friend’s company to deceive the department into making more than $500,000 in payments over five months that were used to dishonestly benefit himself.
In its report, the commission examined Prestage’s conduct while he was engaged as a contractor to manage the department’s implementation of CA Clarity Project Portfolio Management software.
ICAC found that Prestage recommended to the DFSI that it engage Petite Software Systems to undertake work on the project. The company belonged to Prestage’s friend Michael Turner, who was its sole director and shareholder.
But Petite Software Systems never did any work for the department and Turner was unaware that Prestage had used the company name to obtain half a million dollars.
“Mr Prestage orchestrated the appointment of Petite Software Systems as a supplier to the DFSI by falsely representing to the department that ICT government accredited suppliers could not fulfil DFSI’s requirements,” ICAC said.
“He used it name to disguise the fact that another company with a similar moniker, Petite Solutions, was paid by DFSI for work carried out by ICT contractors on the Clarity project, purportedly on behalf of Petite Software Systems.
Petite Solutions was effectively under Prestage’s control, having been registered by his mother-in-law on his behalf and at his request, she was also its sole director, secretary and shareholder.
He also asked her to open a bank account in the name of the company into which the DFSI made payments. Prestage secured payments to Petite Solutions by issuing invoices in the name of Petite Software Systems but which contained the bank account details of Petite Solutions, ICAC said.
From June 15 to 19 October 2016, Petite Solutions received $569,800 from DFSI. After payments from this account to several ICT contractors, the balance of $523,450 was transferred from Petite Solutions’ account into other accounts controlled by Prestage.
During this same period, Prestage also received $101,980 for his services as project manager, ICAC said.
He used the names Petite Software Systems, Petite Solutions and Petite interchangeably in his dealing with DFSI and ICT contractors. This created uncertainty as to the identity of the supplier of contractors to the Clarity project and the identity of the party receiving payments from the DFSI.
ICAC has questioned the DFSI’s control framework given that these corrupt payments were made in such a short period of time.
“Mr Prestage’s conduct was facilitating by numerous control failings that included risks inherent in engaging him in the first place as he had a history of engagement in misconduct,” ICAC said.
ICAC made 15 corruption recommendations to DFSI, including that the department develops a framework to ensure that the employment screening checks conducted on contractors are commensurate with the level of risk posed by their respective engagements.
It also recommended that the DFST provides guidance to its staff who hold a financial delegation about red flags on quotations that indicate that a supplier may not be genuine. The department said it is implementing, or intends to implement, the recommendations.
Just last February, ICAC recommended that the NSW public sector adopt stronger screening practices to combat employment application fraud.
This followed several investigations that examined conduct to which undetected employment application fraud can lead. In 2016, the commission found that Ronald Cordoba – who had an undetected fraud conviction – was appointed as acting ICT manager at TAFE NSW South Western Sydney Institute.
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