How Sydney MSP exec and 'Alicia' allegedly scammed $1.7m

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How Sydney MSP exec and 'Alicia' allegedly scammed $1.7m

Accused TAFE IT fraudster and owner of service provider Storm Solutions, Ronald Cordoba, has admitted to charging his employer thousands of dollars for a cloud storage service run off two servers in his own home.

During the second day of hearings at NSW corruption watchdog ICAC, Cordoba owned up to charging the South Western Sydney Institute of TAFE $150,000 for two years worth of Dropbox enterprise licenses, which he had bought from Dropbox for a little over $70,000.

Cordoba admitted using his position as ICT manager at the TAFE to sign off on $1.7 million worth of invoices from a company he had set up, called ITD Pty Ltd.

He told ICAC counsel he intended to pay back the roughly $1.1 million profit he made from running the front business to secure fees from TAFE that would be channeled back into his own bank account.

He said he hadn't yet discussed the issue of repayments with his employer, but said he would "have to come to an arrangement" with the institute.

ICAC has laid out evidence showing how Cordoba conducted email exchanges between himself and a fake ITD account manager called 'Alicia' for the purpose of copying in colleagues and maintaining the semblance of a legitimate third-party provider.

The ICT manager – who has been suspended from TAFE on full pay for close to a year over the matter – claimed it was not uncommon for management to sign off on procurement of goods and services before they had been delivered to the TAFE.

"It was a common practice," he said, claiming it was particularly prevalent towards the end of financial year when budget funds needed to be used up, even if goods and services were delayed.

But Cordoba also admitted to scrambling to buy dozens of products, which were never received by the TAFE, to cover his tracks once his scheme was uncovered in 2014, using a list sent to him by his TAFE superiors as a "shopping list".

Circumventing the checks

On Monday, counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) outlined how Cordoba is alleged to have worked around the “three-way match” approval system governing procurement at the TAFE institute.

Prior to securing work from the campus, vendors need to be registered in the state Department of Education’s SAP finance system, and have a procurement order approved by another staff member with the appropriate financial delegation.

Before an invoice and payment are made, the commission heard, a TAFE officer must certify that the work has been completed. The work order, the certification and the invoice must match for the task to be successfully processed.

ICAC claims Cordoba was able to get around these rules by instructing a member of his staff to register his company, ITD Pty Ltd, into the finance system, and to generate work orders which he then used his acting position as IT manager - on a $150,000 salary - to approve.

The full tally of the work orders sent to ITD equates to $1.7 million after GST, ICAC alleges, for a variety of goods and services from Dropbox licences to network consulting and storage hardware.

While some of the work and the products were delivered to the TAFE, ICAC is alleging Cordoba charged a significant premium for the goods and services, which cost him less than $500,000 to deliver. He is accused of pocketing somewhere in the vicinity of $1.1 million profit.

ICAC claims Cordoba created a false persona known as ‘Alicia’ to send the institute ITD invoices and to stand in as a contact person on ITD registrations so the company would not be traced back to him.

South Western Sydney TAFE financial accountant Neil Stralow told ICAC counsel the institute's procurement policy does not address the instruction of subordinate staff to create work orders that are then signed off by the same executive.

He said a routine check of the ITD listing in the SAP system did not set off any alarm bells because it did not directly name Cordoba as an associate of the company.

The hearing continues. ICAC intends to apply to the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions for a recommendation on possible criminal charges

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