Focus on Scimone's $30,000 woes
THE former Wollongong council officer and ALP powerbroker Joe Scimone was fooled into believing his "problems" at Wollongong council could be made to disappear if he paid $30,000 to two men claiming to be corrupt Independent Commission Against Corruption officials, a public inquiry was told yesterday.
Government implodes as minister jumps ship
Exactly what those problems were was a subject for interrogation yesterday at the commission inquiry into alleged corrupt behaviour at the council, with questions being asked about Mr Scimone's role assessing development applications, and bribes he allegedly paid to pervert the inquiry.
The commission yesterday issued a warrant for the arrest of one of the men, Ray Younan, a criminal alleged to have solicited bribes from Mr Scimone and others named in the inquiry. Younan is believed to be in Lebanon with health problems.
#The hearing, which began on Monday, also heard more about how the imposters tried to bribe Wollongong council staff and local developers in what increasingly looks like an unsophisticated sting involving cloak-and-dagger meetings and mysterious phone calls.
Allegations of more inappropriate sexual relations between a former council town planner, Beth Morgan - portrayed in evidence as having been on a possible "mission for sex" - and developers were also aired, some of them detailed in emails between various people mentioned in the hearings.
Mr Scimone - a close ally of the Minister for Ports and Waterways, Joe Tripodi, and a friend for 30 years of the former Wollongong lord mayor and present Police Minister, David Campbell - stood down from his job with NSW Maritime on Wednesday pending the outcome of the inquiry.
The commission has said Mr Scimone's conduct at the council requires scrutiny in respect of his relationships with developers, particularly his friend Glen Tabak, from whom he bought a unit in a development approved by council, and his "apparent payment of cash intended to pervert the course of this investigation" to the convicted criminals and imposters Younan and Gerald Carroll.
Mr Tabak said Mr Scimone had been under great stress because he had lost his job at the council, could not get another one, and had been accused of sexually harassing a female colleague at the council.
Mr Tabak yesterday told the commission Younan had demanded another $20,000 on top of $30,000 Mr Scimone had already paid "because he didn't want any more hassles in his life".
"He said that after going through all the things that he had gone through in the last 12 months, that was, his job in council and … [not being] able to get another job and all the stress and he was crying … and he said he was scared," Mr Tabak said.
"Sorry, he told you that he'd pay the money rather than go through what?" asked the commissioner, Jerrold Cripps, QC. "Was he saying that Ray Younan could ensure that he would have no more hassles?" "I don't know," Mr Tabak replied.
Counsel assisting the commission, Noel Hemmings, QC, had earlier quizzed Mr Tabak on his friendship with the council staff member and whether that had affected the way Mr Scimone assessed Mr Tabak's development applications.
Mr Tabak said he was surprised when Ms Morgan began to appear at "Table of Knowledge" meetings at a Northbeach kebab shop that involved developers, businessmen and council executives.
He said he believed Ms Morgan "wanted to be surrounded by successful people". "It is possible she was on a mission for sex," he said.
Mr Tabak said he did not know if his friend thought paying the bribe would solve problems that may have been related to the way he carried out his council work.
Mr Tabak also met Younan when Ms Morgan invited him to an isolated cafe in Appin. She had agreed to pay the two men $50,000 but refused to have sex with Carroll as payment to have her ICAC file cleaned, the commission has heard.
Mr Tabak was not so easily taken in. "He didn't look like an ICAC officer to me," he said of the heavyset 55-year-old who favours white shirts and gold chains.
Mr Tabak and Mr Scimone told the bribery story to another local developer, Michael Kollaras, who yesterday claimed he made Mr Scimone ring the commission and reveal the whole thing.
THE Iemma Government was in full blown crisis last night as the Environment Minister, Phil Koperberg, prepared to quit the cabinet and the future of the Ports Minister, Joe Tripodi, was under a giant cloud as a result of the Wollongong sex-for-development scandal.
Five sex claims surface against ALP heavyweight
The Premier was set to announce Mr Koperberg's retirement from cabinet this morning, senior sources confirmed. Domestic violence allegations against the minister have resurfaced recently, and he has since been ill.
His departure means an opportunity for a cabinet reshuffle, which could allow the Premier to demote the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, and the Community Services Minister, Kevin Greene. But Morris Iemma is close friends with Ms Meagher, and Mr Greene has previously indicated he does not want to move.
Mr Tripodi's future also appeared uncertain last night after he was locked in crisis talks with the right-wing Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and the Treasurer, Michael Costa, over the controversy involving his department, NSW Maritime, granting a $200,000-a-year job in December to his friend, the Labor official Joe Scimone.
Mr Scimone, a former Wollongong council officer, was forced to stand down from his job on Wednesday pending the findings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into Wollongong Council.
Three Wollongong Labor councillors stood aside yesterday after being named at the commission's hearings.
Mr Iemma appeared to cast doubt over Mr Tripodi's future yesterday, warning that anyone found to have acted improperly would be "out".
He also revealed that on Wednesday he had asked his director-general, Robyn Kruk, to refer to the commission Mr Tripodi's department's appointment of Mr Scimone. The commission is expected to decide next week whether there should be an investigation into Mr Tripodi.
"Anyone who is found to have done the wrong thing - out. No matter who they are," Mr Iemma said. "There are no bones about this whatsoever."
The national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, John Sutton, weighed into the crisis affecting the Government during a national conference of the union, which was attended by the Deputy Premier, John Watkins. Mr Sutton declared that Mr Watkins should replace Mr Iemma.
"I speak for everyone in this room [when I say] I would hope the day John Watkins becomes premier isn't that far away, and the day can't come too soon," Mr Sutton said. Mr Watkins, seated behind Mr Sutton, could not suppress a grin when the union secretary delivered his words. Later, when asked where Mr Iemma was, Mr Watkins said he did not know and directed inquiries to Mr Iemma's office.
A source close to Mr Koperberg said although he would cite health reasons for quitting, he had had enough of a war he has fought behind the scenes against the Blacktown MP, Paul Gibson.
He believed Mr Gibson was spreading allegations against him. He would remain on the backbench as member for the Blue Mountains "to show he's not concerned about these allegations".
"It's [his quitting the cabinet is] really a vote of no confidence in Iemma not dealing with Gibson," a source close to Mr Koperberg said.
The source claimed that Mr Gibson had been continuing to press allegations against Mr Koperberg even after police had found no evidence against him.
The Premier's office declined to comment on the former rural fire chief's future last night. Mr Koperberg did not return calls.
Mr Koperberg's retirement from cabinet is expected to spark recriminations over why he was recruited to run for Parliament last March. His recruitment sparked a feud between him and Mr Gibson, who had had a relationship with Mr Koperberg's former wife.
Mr Koperberg's departure follows rumours that Mr Iemma approached former minister Carmel Tebbutt, who is in the Hard Left faction, to see if she would be interested in re-entering the ministry.
Mr Iemma and Ms Tebbutt have denied such conversations took place. Ms Tebbutt insists she is happy to remain on the back bench and continue as a mother now her husband, Anthony Albanese, is a minister in the Federal Government.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Scimone, who is head of Labor's credentials committee, and four Wollongong councillors named in the corruption hearings, deputy mayor Kiril Jonovski, Zeki Esen, Frank Gigliotti and Val Zanotto, were suspended from the Labor Party pending the outcome of the commission's inquiry.
Cr Jonovski, Cr Esen and Cr Gigliotti have also stood aside from their council duties.
Their decision to stand aside swings the balance of power at the council to the independents. Mr Tripodi continued to defend himself against the allegations involving the hiring of Mr Scimone yesterday but would not detail the number of meetings he had with him before he was hired. He continued to insist that he had no role in Mr Scimone being hired.
"As I have repeatedly said, I have known Mr Scimone for many years through politics but do not keep records of my social discussions," Mr Tripodi said.
"The matter has been referred to ICAC and I welcome the investigation to clear up the allegations once and for all.
Mr Iemma confirmed again he had "known Mr Scimone for quite some time".
"He's a Labor figure and an employee of Wollongong Council and I have visited Wollongong council in my official capacity many times. Yes, I know him, as many people do."
AS MANY as five women who have worked at various times at Wollongong City Council have raised allegations of harassment and intimidation by the ALP heavyweight Joe Scimone.
The complaints emerged after the Herald revealed one such case yesterday.
The Herald understands that one woman who made a serious allegation against Mr Scimone - whose connections with powerful Labor figures are well established - was subsequently employed by the NSW public service.
Her husband was also appointed to an important position in the office of a senior minister.
The incidents that allegedly occurred since 2002 reveal a pattern of behaviour where Mr Scimone ensured there were ramifications for women who spurned his approaches.
Tanya Rajaratnum has detailed her complaint against Mr Scimone in a 2006 statement obtained by the Herald.
In 2005, as a junior customer service officer, the statement says, she was repeatedly approached and touched by Mr Scimone.
After she relented to his incessant requests for a dinner date, Mr Scimone shocked her by demanding details of her sex life. "Do you experiment or do you have a threesome or anything like that?" the document alleges he said.
She had replied that the question upset her because "I had been sexually assaulted when I was younger and I found his question very intrusive and unpleasant".
Mr Scimone allegedly responded: "Yes, but there is a big difference between consensual sex and being assaulted. I like to have a threesome. You'd be safe in that sort of set-up because everyone's in it together."
By the end of that night, after insisting that she continue to drink, Mr Scimone allegedly grabbed at Ms Rajaratnum beside his car. "Before I could get into the car he grabbed me, kissed me, stuck his tongue into my mouth and groped me over my clothes touching my breasts," she said.
"I was shocked and very uncomfortable about this because he was at least twice my age, was my boss and I had told him that I had a boyfriend and had been sexually assaulted."
In Ms Rajaratnum's statement, Mr Scimone is said to have offered $1000 to both Ms Rajaratnum and another colleague to stay with him in a hotel room in Sydney.
The documents also tells of a trip to Sydney in 2005 by Ms Rajaratnum and Vicki Curran for a council conference. Mr Scimone allegedly approved the trip on condition that one of the two women sleep in his room.
"I'm looking forward to what we're going to get up to when we're up there at the conference," he allegedly said to them. "Who's going to be sharing my room?"
After they moved to rooms further from his and resisted his advances, Mr Scimone was said to have "cracked down" on the women. In particular, Ms Rajaratnum reported that he "victimised Vicki Curran".
The Herald published details yesterday of a complaint made by Ms Curran after an alleged sexual assault by Mr Scimone after a staff Christmas party in 2005.
Mr Scimone contacted the Herald last night to give a statement about the incident involving Ms Curran. He refused to discuss the other complaints. "There was a complaint lodged and the matter was settled and mediated in February 2007," he said. "The terms of that agreement preclude me from making any further comment."
Ms Rajaratnum could not be contacted by the Herald.
Tapes played at the commission hearings on Wednesday reveal a developer, Frank Vellar, and a Wollongong businessman, Harry Sissanes, talking in 2006 about the assaults Mr Scimone is alleged to have made.
Vellar: "I rang you up just to let you know f---in', f---ing another girl's come out of the woodwork with Scimone."