Recent news regarding matters which fall under the ICAC Act (relating to corrupt conduct) indicate that local councils are increasingly faced with the need for the services of a reputable, competent, reliable and impartial investigation company. Lyonswood Investigations and Forensic Group have a proud 28-year reputation of achieving expected outcomes for local councils.
Lyonswood Investigations and Forensic Group has extensive experience, qualifications and, furthermore, a proven documented track record in assisting councils in these fields. Almost three decades of serving local councils with investigative services has allowed Lyonswood to specialise in and understand the problems local councils face on a day-to-day basis.
The council’s core business is taking care of its ratepayers, residents, traders, its own assets and maintaining adequate services for the community – it does not necessarily have the skilled internal resources to investigate the actions of employees, ratepayers, residents, traders or service providers that might arise out of the provision of council business, services and requirements. Many of these actions could be deemed unlawful under numerous Acts of Parliament, more particularly the Crimes Act, The ICAC Act or council regulations and Local Government Law. These investigations should clearly be undertaken by government-licensed private investigators who are armed with the skill sets and resources, understand the business of local councils and who can provide an impartial, competent and timely investigation based upon fact and supported by lawfully gathered admissible evidence.
A number of investigation types carried out by Lyonswood on behalf of local councils are detailed along with case histories and are discussed below:
Development consent disputes: One of the more common investigations is the gathering of evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that certain premises that trade as therapeutic massage parlours are, in fact, operating as brothels. This type of investigation presents particular problems related to the OH & S of the investigator (Lyonswood has a Certificate In OH & S Management), the furtiveness of the owners/operators of these premises and the need to gather very detailed evidence in a lawful manner and present it in a form that will be accepted by and convince The Land and Environment Court, should this be the requirement. Of course, many other matters fall within this heading such as businesses being run from home premises where zoning does not permit.
Illegal Backpacker lodgings: Many councils in areas where tourism has a strong economical impact have experienced complaints from residents and ratepayers relating to premises which operate as backpacker accommodation, yet are not so approved by council. This illegal activity has serious ramifications upon the council if complaints are not properly investigated, particularly as we have seen in recent fire events with the loss of life. Lyonswood has successfully undertaken many hundreds of these investigations with outstanding cost effective outcomes for councils.
Employee misconduct – Theft of time: Non-compliance with designated hours of duty (theft of time) by employees is one area of investigation that has been a major problem for local councils and generally is believed to be an area that is far too difficult to control and even more difficult to gather evidence to bring about dismissal. Some believe that employees manipulating or not fulfilling their hours of employment is an acceptable entrenched Australian pastime.
In fact, the manipulation of agreed working hours by employees amounts to the theft of money. Employees are paid an hourly rate and, as such, the theft of time equates to the theft of money. Recent studies suggest that continued abuse of working hours costs employers far in excess of theft of assets. A recent investigation proved that a council employee of 8 years was in fact leaving the workplace on an average of three hours early each day. When amortised out over a 48 week year, a 38 hour week, at an hourly rate of around $20 p/h, this equated to a loss of around $3,000 per annum for this employee alone. This does not take into account the loss in productivity and the on costs to council to rectify this loss and the added exposure to risks related to Workers Compensation and Liability insurance claims.
Vandalism, Malicious damage: With the increased incidence of binge drinking and the flow-on effect of antisocial behaviour, many councils are faced with increased costs related to damage caused to council property. Lyonswood has undertaken many such investigations and provide video and photographic evidence and locator details of the persons responsible. This pro-active approach allows councils to send a message to those responsible that council will not tolerate this behaviour and will take action to recover costs.
Late trading noise complaints: These complaints are often fielded by councils from persons who reside in close proximity to hotels and other entertainment venues where extended hours permits are granted. Lyonswood has received instructions from a number of councils to video and record sound so that council might have an informed and impartial report from which to make decisions regarding these complaints.
Workplace Surveillance Act: Many people are of the belief that the NSW Workplace Surveillance Act Prevents employers from undertaking surveillance of employees in the workplace. In fact, the legislation allows employers to undertake video surveillance of employees in the workplace provided that an authority is obtained from a local court by a licensed security professional. Lyonswood holds a Security Master License, a Commercial Agents and Private Inquiry Agents Master License and an Advanced Diploma in Security Risk Management and makes applications on behalf of employers to obtain an authority from the court. This authority is given in camera with only the client, court and Lyonswood being privy to this information, thus the integrity of the investigation is protected and the employer council is at arms length from the actual court-authorised investigation process. This reduces the risk of employee action for wrongful dismissal.
Workplace surveillance authorities are appropriate where theft of time and/or assets where video evidence is required and also in the case of workers compensation claims where council is not only the employer but also the workers compensation insurer (specialised or self-insurer).
Theft and unauthorised use of assets: Several of our council clients have sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses attributable to theft of product, including (but not limited to): building supplies, fuel for vehicles, tools of trade, earth moving equipment and vehicles. Some have experienced the unauthorised/illegal use of council equipment by employees for their own benefit or to run their own businesses. Lyonswood can gather the evidence you require in these matters, prepare a statement of facts and criminal brief of evidence and liaise with police to bring about swift and lawful recovery of the assets and apprehension of the persons responsible.
Obtaining benefits by deception/false instrument: Some long term employees have built a lifestyle that they have become accustomed to and reliant upon through fraudulent misrepresentation or misappropriation. Recently we were called upon by a NSW Council to examine discrepancies in the fuel accounts relating to their waste disposal trucks. It became apparent that for over 5 years there was a great disparity in the kilometres traveled and the fuel consumed. Council believed that these employees were fueling their own vehicles, perhaps by filling drums at the time of refueling council vehicles. The employees were directed by council to a particular service station and an account was established to facilitate smooth transactions that could be monitored by council. Authorisation cards were given to the employees for presentation at the service station. This trust facilitated the fraud.
Surveillance was undertaken by Lyonswood and it was revealed that the council waste disposal drivers had worked an arrangement with an employee of the service station to facilitate them purchasing $150 worth of groceries every time they refueled the council trucks (twice a week) and that these groceries would be shown as fuel on the council’s monthly account. The evidence was enough to bring about dismissal and criminal charges of those concerned including the service station employee.
A further case history involves a council who had learned that waste disposal drivers who were designated to collect domestic waste only were in fact collecting commercial waste and receiving payment in cash or goods in kind. Surveillance of these drivers adduced video evidence of the drivers and commercial retailers exchanging money and goods. Lyonswood was instructed to interview all of the commercial retailers involved and to deliver letters of demand to them.
Personal injury and liability claims: Whilst it has become more difficult for individuals to lodge insurance claims, they are still being lodged. Lyonswood’s experience is that councils appear to be more attuned to fraudulent claims than private sector employers. Council reporting mechanisms through the internal grapevine tend to be swift and accurate. Some councils are self-insurers and others rely upon funds managers. No matter your particular situation, Lyonswood can undertake both factual and surveillance investigations on your behalf. Lyonswood undertakes these investigations for most of the major funds management insurers. In any event, if you are not satisfied with your service provider and believe that a more proactive approach is required, we would be happy to assist.
Corrupt conduct: Recent television coverage of prominent matters being investigated by ICAC relating to State Government and Local Government corruption leave no doubt that corruption remains a continuing and urgent concern. The investigative resources of the ICAC are stretched and it is becoming more common for councils to outsource this type of investigation to private sector investigation companies. In fact, recent requirements by I.C.A.C. make it imperative that matters of suspected council corruption are not investigated by council utilising internal resources. Lyonswood has investigated matters of corruption within State Government departments on behalf of those departments with great effectiveness.
Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance: At Lyonswood, this motto is one that we stringently believe in and abide by. We have a policy of gathering intelligence, formulating a strategy plan, consulting with our clients before implementation and executing the agreed plan cost effectively and in the best interests of our clients and delivering on budget and on time. ‘Those who face the unprepared with preparation are victorious’ – Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
“I wholeheartedly recommend the services of Lyonswood Investigations, which has demonstrated outstanding skill in providing investigative assistance to local government. As a legal advisor to various councils, I have had occasion to retain a number of investigative firms to assist with enforcement cases.
Lyonswood has provided a level of expertise and responsiveness, which is far superior to any other investigative firm. Lyonswood clearly understands councils business and regulatory responsibilities, and has proven that it has unmatched capabilities to provide the level of investigative work that is necessary to support councils enforcement efforts in court.
Lyonswood has consistently provided cost effective and expedient service, gathering evidence in a lawful and admissible manner. I unequivocally recommend Lyonswood’s services to Local Government bodies”.
B.A. (Philosophy), Haverford College: Juris Doctor, University of Pittsburgh USA
0434 006 948
Lyonswood asks that you consider our services in the event that you are faced with a matter that requires investigation – you can contact us if you require further information about the above topics. We also ask that in the event you outsource your investigative work through your legal representatives that you might forward a copy of this submission to them or perhaps provide us with their details so that we can on forward a copy.
We invite you to make contact with us so that we might meet with you to discuss how we can assist your council in the future. We are happy to discuss any matter that you might require advice upon in strict confidence and without obligation. We will contact you in the near future to discuss our proposal.
We are also available to provide in-house (at Council premises) workshops in relation to any or all of the afore mentioned matter. However, if you believe that your council would benefit from a workshop where both Lyonswood and one of its specialist Law Firm advisors would present an overview of the discussed matters at another venue where a breakfast style instructional workshop can be structured then we would be interested in your feedback on matters that would be of a priority to your council.