Karen Ann Finnigan defrauded Kirwan High of $65k.
Karen Ann Finnigan defrauded Kirwan High of $65k.

State school employee swindles $65K

A TOWNSVILLE primary school employee swindled more than $65,000 from her school over a three-year period, transferring the money to her groundskeeper partner's account.

Karen Ann Finnigan, 56, charged with fraud, worked as a business service manager at Kirwan State Primary School, handling the school's accounts and finances.

She created fraudulent invoices in total of $65,081.12 that were paid to her partner who was also an employee of the school.

Between February 2014 and March 2017 Finnigan prepared 23 payments to her partner, of which 21 were processed.

When she was confronted by the school's principal on June 8, 2016 for an explanation about a large sum of money transferred to her partner, she covered up her deceit by claiming it went to a contractor with a similar name.

Finnigan then began having payments approved by the deputy principal instead, to bypass the principal and further suspicions.

Crown prosecutor Monique Sheppard told the Townsville District Court yesterday an audit was conducted by the school, with Finnigan making admissions about her offending and paying back the full amount stolen. The court heard Finnigan offered no reason for her offending, and when asked whether she was experiencing financial hardship, she replied "no".

Ms Sheppard said the principal described through correspondence of feeling "played" and "used".

"It is clear the school felt a breach of trust, considered the defendant a valuable, experienced and trusted staff member who misled people who she worked alongside with on a daily basis for many years," she said.

Defence barrister Darin Honchin said Finnigan had suffered from shame upon being discovered, as well as struggling with serious physical and mental health issues.

Mr Honchin said his client was also devastated by the loss of her stepfather.

Judge Leanne Clare told Finnigan she couldn't "buy" her way out of prison.

"This was serious criminal conduct and institutions like schools need to be able to rely on their business managers to deal honestly with their limited funds," Judge Clare said.

Finnigan was sentenced to four years' jail, to be suspended after 13 months. She bowed her head in the dock and sobbed, hugging her family before being led away into the cells.

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