Gerald Pieper sentencing to be handed down

SUPPORTERS: More than a dozen people were in court yesterday to support disgraced former Riverina Water County Council general manager Gerald Pieper. Picture: Laura Hardwick
SUPPORTERS: More than a dozen people were in court yesterday to support disgraced former Riverina Water County Council general manager Gerald Pieper. Picture: Laura Hardwick


He was a man of good character - even outstanding to friends and colleagues who thought they knew him best.

But former Riverina Water County Council (RWCC) general manager and champion Australian footballer Gerald Pieper had a dark side they did not see.

About four years into the top job he started stealing from his employer and over the next 10 years defrauded the RWCC of $351,959.42.

Pieper, 56, appeared in Wagga District Court on Wednesday for sentencing submissions after pleading guilty on July 9 to six counts of misconduct in public office.

After hearing submissions, Judge Ross Letherbarrow said he would sentence Pieper either late this week or early next week.

The judge continued Pieper's bail.

The RWCC has applied for compensation from Pieper for the full amount on the charges, and Judge Letherbarrow indicated he would grant the order after convicting Pieper.

The most serious count as described by the judge concerned Pieper transferring $115,830 into his Commonwealth Bank account in September, 2007.

In September, 2009, Pieper transferred another $14,500 into his account.

Three other counts on the indictment related to Pieper transferring ownership of vehicles bought for RWCC into his own name - a luxury Holden Statesman Caprice (in 2007), a Mitsubishi Pajero (2010) and a Ford Ranger dual cab (2010).

"The offender is not poor."

Judge Ross Letherbarrow

He sold two vehicles to motor dealers and kept one himself, the court heard.

The sixth offence related to Pieper using his corporate credit card between 2001 and 2010 to buy things for his personal use, including shoes, glasses and membership of the Murrumbidgee Turf Club.

"It (the offending) has clearly been committed over many years for financial gain," Judge Letherbarrow said.

"The offender is not poor."

During submissions, Judge Letherbarrow remarked that Pieper had covered up his offences by using his knowledge of the RWCC system.

Pieper worked for RWCC for 35 years, starting as a junior clerk in 1975 and stepping down from the organisation's top job in 2010.

Over that time, he developed a stellar football career, playing 418 senior games for Wagga Tigers, representing NSW and winning three premierships as a coach.

He is in Wagga's Sporting Hall of Fame and this year was appointed Farrer League's chairman of selectors after coaching the league's representative team in 2012 and 2013.

Pieper was charged by police in July, 2012.

Written submissions on sentence were handed up to the judge yesterday by Brendan Queenan for the Crown and solicitor John Weir for Pieper.

In addition, Mr Weir called character evidence from five of Pieper's friends who have known him for between 15 years and 41 years.

They were former water boss Dennis Smith, Lockhart mayor and former RWCC chairman Peter Yates, Hartwigs trucks general manager Ian Cohalan, Farrer Football and Netball League president David Oehm and Charles Sturt University deputy vice-chancellor of administration, Professor Ken Dillon.

All said they had been shocked to learn of Pieper's criminal side, but vowed to stick by him.

A clearly distressed Pieper clutched a handkerchief and wiped his eyes as Mr Smith told the court how Pieper realised how embarrassing the criminal proceedings had been for himself and his family.

Asked by Mr Weir if he had noticed a change in Pieper since the criminal proceedings began, Mr Smith said a once very lively, happy, jovial person was now very withdrawn and lived more of a reclusive life.

Mr Queenan questioned Mr Smith on that point.

"You noticed the change after the allegations were made, not before?"

"Correct," Mr Smith said.

Mr Weir asked Councillor Yates if the RWCC ever had concerns about the way Mr Pieper had managed the organisation.

"No, we had full confidence in the talents of Mr Pieper," Cr Yates said.

"He was the leader of the ship, we believed he was doing an outstanding job."

Cr Yates said he now employed Pieper as a farm worker and trusted him.

"He drives trucks and does harvest work; you don't give him access to your accounts or banking, do you?" Mr Queenan asked.

"No," Cr Yates said.

"But I give him access to my fuel."