Schools big-wig admits fraud conspiracy

Nino Napoli illegally siphoned off more than $500,000 from the Victorian education department.
Nino Napoli illegally siphoned off more than $500,000 from the Victorian education department.

Nino Napoli, a toupee-wearing former Victorian education department big-wig, oversaw a $5 billion budget for state schools.

Then he was caught illegally siphoning off more than $500,000 to family and friends.

Napoli worked for the department for 38 years, starting out as a finance officer and eventually heading the schools finance unit.

For nearly seven years he conspired to defraud the department with fake invoices in a plot involving his cousin Carlo Squillacioti, personally pocketing $150,000 - and a $2000 hairpiece - between them.

They have also pleaded guilty to conspiring to pervert the course of justice after learning that the state's anti-corruption watchdog IBAC was onto them.

From April 2007 to January 2014 the pair colluded to submit false invoices to the education department from a number of companies connected with their families.

Napoli used his position to award contracts and approve payments to companies and individuals he was related to, including Squillacioti.

He concealed his involvement with third party companies so it appeared payments were being made at arms length.

Napoli also made sure invoices were paid without scrutiny as to whether the companies were legitimately entitled to carry out the work, or whether the work was done at all.

Over the seven years 72 false invoices were submitted for more than $525,000.

Napoli walked away with $95,000 in personal benefits, including the $2000 toupee.

More than $230,000 worth of invoices were submitted by companies connected to Squillacioti, who received a $58,000 personal gain.

IBAC installed listening devices in Napoli and Squillacioti's homes and businesses as part of their 2014 investigation.

Those recorded Napoli and Squillacioti conspiring to cover up their involvement.

In one conversation Napoli told an associate to get his story straight.

"We have to get your story right or I am shot - gone," he said.

He later told another man - whose company was used as a go-between - to look through his files and destroy anything that might expose them.

"Anything that looks shifty, pull it out ... if there's anything that looks a bit f***in' like 'if they got this, this would be real bad'," Napoli said.

"Check what you've got, if you haven't got anything, they can't grab it."

IBAC initially alleged the fraud was worth $2.5 million, but found in its final report that it involved at least $1.9 million, plus concerns about another $1.1 million in transactions and $3.3 million worth of contracts.

Barrister Jim Shaw told a pre-sentence hearing in Victoria's County Court on Thursday that the mens' reputations had been damaged by "greatly exaggerated" media reports of those figures.

Mr Shaw said there had also been delays in the case and there were matters of exceptional family hardship, which he would delve further into when the matter returns to court next week.

Australian Associated Press