Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Former Aboriginal art centre boss jailed for ripping off artists

Year: 
2021-2022
Category: 
International Assistance and Specialist Agencies
Location: 
Queensland

Date of Judgment: 14 February 2022

Court: District Court of Queensland

Partner Agency: Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC)

Summary of charges:

Mr Brett Evans was charged with 35 offences contrary to section 265-35(3) of the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth) (CATSI Act), in that he used his position as an employee of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation dishonestly, with the intention of directly or indirectly gaining an advantage for himself.

Synopsis:

On 14 February 2022 in the Mount Isa District Court Mr Evans was sentenced to a total effective sentence of four years and six months imprisonment, with a non-parole period of twenty months.

Key points:

On 35 occasions between August 2011 and September 2014 Mr Evans used his position as the Manager and later the Chief Executive Officer of the Mornington Island Art Centre to obtain $425,378.20 to which he was not entitled.

The Mornington Island Art Centre is operated by the Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation and provides facilities and materials (such as paint and cavasses) to Aboriginal artists on Mornington Island to create artistic work. The Art Centre then assists the artists to sell their artwork and the sale proceeds are divided between the Art Centre and the artist.

During the period of the offending, Mr Evans misrepresented to a number of buyers and/or their agents that he was selling artwork on behalf of the Art Centre when in fact he was selling it for his own personal gain. He did this by dealing and communicating with them in his capacity as an employee of the Art Centre and providing invoices to them which contained his personal bank account details. Mr Evans dishonestly sold and kept the sale proceeds of 190 paintings created by various artists on Mornington Island, including the late Sally Gabori.

The offending was detected when a number of the invoices containing Mr Evans personal bank account details were discovered. A thorough investigation was conducted by ORIC and the extent of the offending was revealed.

Sentencing:

Mr Evans pleaded guilty to all 35 charges and was sentenced to a total effective sentence of four years and six months imprisonment with a single non-parole period of twenty months. Nine reparation orders totalling $421,378.20 were made in favour of the Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation and the artists, pursuant to s21B of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

In sentencing, Judge Dearden said that while Mr Evans offending was not the most serious example of its kind, in his view the offending overall represented something approaching the most serious offending of its kind, in this category of offending.

Judge Dearden noted that the artists relied entirely on the honesty and competence of those who ran the Art Centre and Mr Evans offending represented a profoundly sad and deeply distressing breach of the obligation that he had in his role at the Mornington Island Art Centre to nurture, assist, protect and look after the artistic endeavours of the artists.

“Your conduct has had a profound financial, emotional and very personal effect on each of the artists concerned, or in the case of two of them who are now deceased, on their estates. Fundamentally, you have been a cheat, and you have been a cheat to a very large sum of money, and those whom you cheated – the organisation and the artists – have all been completely cheated of anything from the work that they have done” Judge Dearden said.

Relevant links:

ORIC media release – Former CEO charged with ripping off Aboriginal artist and art centre