Elder’s theft a mystery to court
DOUBTS linger as to why a pillar of the Weipa community “undermined her legacy” and embezzled more than $30,000 in four days.
Judge David Reid said he was suspicious that pressure was brought to bear on former local councillor Mary Ann Coconut, 75, to defraud the TWAL Justice Indigenous Corporation – for which she served as director – in 2016.
“I am highly suspicious that there was significant pressure placed on you by others,” Judge Reid said.
Ms Coconut refused to divulge where the money – about half of which still remains missing – has gone, other than to tell defending barrister Michael Dalton that some of the money went toward a Toyota LandCruiser for her son. The vehicle now sits damaged and immobile in his front yard.
“My client has been a little tight-lipped,” Mr Dalton told Cairns District Court.
“The motivation was not one of personal greed; rather she came from a struggling and poor family and took the funds to benefit her family.”
The court heard Ms Coco- nut – a Thanikwithi elder who started a Weipa domestic violence service, served as a liaison for child safety and was a member of the Western Cape Health Organisation, accessed the indigenous corporation’s credit union accounts four times in late October and early November 2016.
She transferred $13,600 to her own account and on a fifth occasion transferred $16,500 from the credit union account to pay for the LandCruiser.
Ms Coconut’s crime was discovered shortly after during a routine audit and she stepped down as corporation director.
She has since paid back $2000.
Judge Reid said Ms Coconut’s actions were a “moment of madness” for a woman who single-handedly raised seven children and was a keynote speaker in Toronto, Canada at an international conference for the Barnett Values Centre.
“She was an exemplar of the community and over four days she did this … something is going on here,” Judge Reid said. He ordered Ms Coconut to serve a two year jail term, suspended over two years.
“The adverse affects this may have to your legacy in the community is punishment enough,” Judge Reid said.