$8m fraud: Ex Channel 7 exec bailed as wife stumps up $70K

 

A former high-flying Channel 7 executive who was allegedly caught by his bosses stealing $8 million from the network has been released on bail after his wife agreed to deposit $70,000.

John Fitzgerald appeared in the dock of Burwood Local Court today after being arrested by police at his Breakfast Point home on Wednesday.

The 58-year-old is accused of creating, approving and paying 700 invoices before sending the money to bank accounts under his control while working as Channel 7's commercial manager between 2002 and 2016.

Channel 7 froze his assets and a civil case was settled last year where Fitzgerald paid the money back, the court was told.

But police launched their own investigation after receiving a complaint before arresting him and charging him with a string of offences including misappropriation of money by agent.

In court, police prosecutor Sergeant Michael Tran opposed Fitzgerald's release, saying he was a flight risk and at risk of reoffending.

"I would submit, if convicted of these offences on indictment, the accused faces a lengthy sentence," he said.

 

John Fitzgerald was arrested at his home on Wednesday.
John Fitzgerald was arrested at his home on Wednesday.

"It's (allegedly) sophisticated offences where he's taken advantage of his position."

However, Fitzgerald's defence lawyer Phillip Ryan said his client had been aware of the police investigation for some time and did not try to flee.

In granting bail, Magistrate Alison Viney said Fitzgerald's chances of failing to reappear were low given he knew about the probe, but warned he could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.

"There were civil proceedings commenced, as disclosed in the facts, by the corporate victim and they have subsequently been settled in May, 2018," she said.

"It was then in August, 2018, that police became involved and have been investigating and ultimately laid these charges.

John Fitzgerald was granted bail in court today.
John Fitzgerald was granted bail in court today.

"Certainly, if convicted of these matters, given the lengthy time which the (alleged) offences took place, the position of trust he held at the time and obviously the amount of money that was stolen and defrauded would certainly see the defendant facing a lengthy jail term."

As part of his strict bail conditions, Fitzgerald must surrender his passport, report three times a week to police and not seek any additional employment.

His current employer Albert Drum, who sat next to Fitzgerald's wife in the public gallery on Thursday, is aware of the case, the court was told.

Fitzgerald works four days a week on average as a bookkeeper at A Touch of Fashion and has no access to the boutique fashion firm's bank accounts, Mr Ryan said.

"Being such a small company, the chances of him being involved again is greatly reduced."

Fitzgerald's wife, Michelle, agreed to deposit $70,000 as a surety to secure his release.

The matter will return to court on August 14.