Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council – allegations concerning receipt of corrupt benefits (Operation Petrie)

Year: 2012 Status: Completed

The ICAC investigated allegations that between March 2005 and April 2006, Ron Mason (former chairperson of the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council) and Ken Foster (former coordinator of the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council) received corrupt benefits from Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari in return for facilitating negotiations between the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council, Mr Gattellari, Ron Medich Developments Pty Ltd and Waterview Developments Pty Ltd.

The Commission also investigated an allegation that between January 2008 and April 2010, Vanessa Mason (former chairperson and current CEO of the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council) received corrupt benefits from Mr Gattellari in return for facilitating negotiations between the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council, Mr Gattellari and Waterview Developments Pty Ltd.

In its report on the investigation, made public on 27 September 2012, the Commission makes corrupt conduct findings against Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari, Ron Mason, Ken Foster, Vanessa Mason and Ron Medich. The Commission is of the opinion that the advice of the director of public prosecution should be sought with respect to the prosecution of Mr Mason, Mr Foster and Ms Mason for various offences. The ICAC has made three corruption prevention recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the government generally, to help minimise the recurrence of such conduct.

Findings of corrupt conduct

The Commission has found that Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari engaged in corrupt conduct by making payments and providing other financial benefits to Ron Mason totalling approximately $38,300, and to Ken Foster totalling approximately $31,300, to help facilitate negotiations relating to a joint venture agreement between the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council (Wagonga LALC) and the Medich Group. Mr Gattellari also engaged in corrupt conduct by making payments to Vanessa Mason totalling approximately $127,746 to facilitate negotiations between the Wagonga LALC and his company Water View Developments Pty Ltd in relation to proposed long-term leases.

The Commission has found that Ron Mason engaged in corrupt conduct by accepting the payments and other financial benefits from Mr Gattellari as an inducement and reward for using his position as Wagonga LALC chairperson to facilitate and assist negotiations with the Medich Group in relation to the joint venture agreement.

The Commission has found that Ken Foster acted corruptly by accepting the payments and other benefits from Mr Gattellari as an inducement to use his position as Wagonga LALC coordinator to facilitate negotiations with the Medich Group in relation to the joint venture agreement.

The Commission has found that Vanessa Mason engaged in corrupt conduct by accepting the payments made to her and her company, Emandem Enterprises, by Mr Gattellari as a reward for having used her position as Wagonga LALC CEO to facilitate negotiations between the Wagonga LALC and Water View Developments, and as an inducement for her to continue using her position as CEO to assist Mr Gattellari and Water View Developments in the future.

The Commission has found that Ron Medich engaged in corrupt conduct by facilitating the provision of financial benefits to the Wagonga LALC decision-makers to assist the negotiations relating to the joint venture agreement and the proposed long-term leases.

Recommendations for prosecutions

The Commission must seek the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on whether any prosecution should be commenced. The DPP determines whether any criminal charges can be laid, and conducts all prosecutions. The Commission provides information on this website in relation to the status of prosecution recommendations and outcomes as advised by the DPP. The progress of matters is generally within the hands of the DPP. Accordingly, the Commission does not directly notify persons affected of advice received from the DPP or the progress of their matters generally.

The ICAC is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP with respect to the prosecution of: Ron Mason, Ken Foster and Vanessa Mason for offences of corruptly receiving benefits contrary to section 249B(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 and offences of misconduct in public office; Ron Medich for offences of aiding and abetting the provision of corrupt benefits to Mr Mason, Mr Foster and Ms Mason contrary to section 249F of the Crimes Act.

Briefs of evidence were provided to the DPP on 16 January 2013. Consideration of the matter by the DPP was in abeyance pending completion of the trial of Ron Medich for murder in another matter and the assessment of the credibility of a witness in that trial whose evidence was relevant to this matter. On 31 October 2018, the DPP advised there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Ron Mason, Kenneth Foster, Vanessa Mason or Ron Medich for any offences. The Commission has accepted that advice.

Recommendations for disciplinary action

Ron Mason, Ken Foster and Vanessa Mason are no longer employed by the Wagonga LALC. The Commission therefore is not required to form an opinion as to whether consideration should be given to the taking of action against them for a specified disciplinary offence.

Recommendations for corruption prevention

The Commission has made three corruption prevention recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and the government generally.

Recommendation 1

That any future amendments to the Aboriginal Lands Right Act 1983 are sensitive to the resource implications of compliance with the amended legislation for the Aboriginal land rights network.

Recommendation 2

That the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs consults with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council regarding the Aboriginal land rights network's financial and resource capacity to provide support and capability development to LALCs across NSW.

Recommendation 3

That the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs considers a review of the operation of Part 10 of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 in meeting the expectations of the land rights network by excluding individuals who have been found to have engaged in corrupt conduct or in serious misconduct for a period of up to five years.

Media Releases
Witness

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Download the Witness List (PDF)

Transcripts

View all transcripts associated with this investigation. The Commission makes every effort to post the daily transcripts of its public inquiries on its website by 8:00 pm each day when possible. If the Commission sits later than 4:00 pm, the daily transcripts, particularly the afternoon session, may not be available until the next working day.

 

Exhibits Public notices