In evidence before the NSW Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking, identities named as the major figures controlling the Griffith-based marihuana racket were described as little educated and having limited understanding of financial matters.
Who, then, did they look to for professional accountancy and tax advice?
Judging by witnesses called before the inquiry to explain details of inner financial dealings, they had available the very best.
In probing the marihuana trade emanating from Griffith, the commission concentrated on Robert Trimbole, businessman and gambler, of Sydney, and Antonio (Tony) Sergi, farmer and winery owner, of Griffith.
As to financial knowledge, Trimbole was stated by an accountancy witness to have had little understanding of financial matters, and Sergi’s own barrister, Mr P. A. McInerney, maintained in defence of Sergi that he (Sergi) would not have had the intelligence to wash large sums of money.
Answering submissions by Bill Fisher, QC, that Sergi had been part of an organisation set up to market marihuana, McInerney said that any such organisation would have known that any large sums of money might have to be accounted for in the future.
‘We would submit’, he argued, ‘that Mr Sergi does not impress as the sort of person who had the intelligence to organise this’.
Transcripts of the commission’s hearings show that a key figure relied upon for professional advice was Christine Robyn Campbell of 3 Luton Place, St Ives, Sydney.
At the relevant time, she was company secretary for Finance Facilities Pty Ltd, owned by Sir Paul Strasser (seventy per cent) and John Boyer (thirty per cent).
However, she said she had handled accountancy matters for Trimbole and Sergi on a freelance basis outside her full-time employment.
Sir Paul Strasser has publicly stated that he had no knowledge of Mrs Campbell’s work for Trimbole.
In her position with Finance Facilities, she was used to dealing in millions of dollars.
Finance Facilities went into receivership in March 1977, when caught up in the crash of the Parkes Group of Companies.
Mrs Campbell has been a significant financial brain in her own right, having since been called upon for advice by other major business organisations.
Mrs Campbell gave evidence of having handled a much-publicised discharge from bankruptcy of Trimbole and having dealt with other finance arrangements for the Sergi family’s interests in Griffith. She gave evidence ‘by way of explanation’ over the handling of the Trimbole discharge from bankruptcy.
She was represented by Barry Patrick Geraghty of the firm of Geraghty, Landerer and Ebner, who occupied offices in the headquarters building for the Strasser companies at 52 Clarence Street, Sydney.
Geraghty advised the Royal Commission that Mrs Campbell desired to submit that ‘her action in the matter (of Trimbole’s discharge from bankruptcy) was professional and professional only and that she had no knowledge of surrounding circumstances that Your Honor has heard about’.
On oath, Mrs Campbell told of arranging (under her maiden name House) the discharge from bankruptcy on a consultancy or freelance arrangement with Ruddy and Associates.
She said she had been introduced to Trimbole by John Ruddy and she understood he had been introduced to Trimbole through existing clients in the Liverpool area.
She said that, although working for Finance Facilities, she had done work for Ruddy and Associates as a ‘casual employee on an hourly basis, as a casual-employed accountant’.
She had started working for Ruddy and Associates when Mr Ruddy senior (who died in 1976) became ill and John Ruddy, who was not a qualified accountant, was without accounting facility.
In what she herself said was not a normal transaction, she had personally arranged the banking and paying up of $21200 to the Official Receiver on 5 May 1975 to discharge from bankruptcy.
Trimbole had asked her what to do to become discharged and, as she described it, it was very simple. It was only a matter of ringing up the Official Receiver, finding the amount required, delivering the cheque to the Official Receiver and from there on it was in the Receiver’s hands to discharge him.
Asked why Trimbole could not have done that, Mrs Campbell said: ‘Only because of the intelligence of the man’, adding, later: ‘Taking into consideration the gentleman’s personality at the time and assumed lack of understanding of financial matters the clearing of the cheques was done more personally than would normally be done in accounting practice’.
Funds for the discharge from bankruptcy came from a series of cheques, described as loans to Trimbole from various farmers at Griffith.
The cheques were endorsed to Mrs Campbell by Trimbole and banked into her personal account, then paid to the Official Receiver by ‘special bank clearance’ through Mrs Campbell’s sister, Cheryl Waters, who worked as a ledger supervisor with the Sydney branch of the Bank of NSW, and who, for the transaction, used the joint account of her and her husband in the name of C. G. and G. L. Waters.
As explained to the commission by Mrs Campbell, her sister’s role in clearing the cheques in this fashion ‘was the only transaction or involvement that she had ever done for these particular people’. She had simply acted as she did as a favour to her, without knowing the persons involved.
The Royal Commissioner Mr Justice Woodward, commented, in part: ‘Why is it that this lady can go to a bank where her sister is employed and get a special clearance so that in fact a bank cheque is issued before the cheques have been cleared?’
Waters later left the bank.
A bank official said she left to have a baby, and the commission was told that she had not been pressed for an interview because of difficulties with her health in having the baby.
Apart from advising Trimbole, Mrs Campbell said in her evidence that she had assisted in the preparation of 1975 tax returns for Trimbole’s children and his wife who were at that time ‘trading in a few small businesses— namely, a liquor store known as Casula Cellars, a Foodland store adjacent to the liquor store and a small retail clothing shop in Griffith’.
In 1976, she had advised his children on setting up the bookwork for their shop in Griffith.
Asked had she ever arranged finance for Trimbole through Finance Facilities or any other company, she said: ‘No, my employment with Finance Facilities was completely independent with my work for John Ruddy’.
Asked to elaborate on her opinion that Trimbole had very little understanding of business and financial matters, Mrs Campbell said: ‘From what I have been accustomed to I thought Bob to be a small, but unorganised businessman just getting going after bankruptcy and his family accumulating assets and he was at the point where he was growing in size and needed professional advice’.
In his final report, Mr Justice Woodward described the production of a series of cheques for Trimbole’s discharge from bankruptcy as the ‘laundering of money by the loans method’. He said that Trimbole’s statement to the Official Receiver that he had borrowed the money was a lie. It was also inconsistent with Trimbole’s known position which permitted him to enter into contracts for the purchase of land for the total price of $657 050 prior to his application for discharge. Trimbole had also admitted in evidence that he had approximately $177000 in cash in his safe at the time of application. During the same year, he had paid out, by way of gifts, loans and purchases, approximately $178000.
Mrs Campbell had met Tony Sergi through Trimbole and had worked on his wine accounts for 1975.
She said she had ‘organised the sale of a company owned by my then employer Finance Facilities Pty Ltd to Tony Sergi for the purpose of this company acting in the capacity as a trustee for the Sergi family’. She added: ‘However, I wasn’t involved in the actual setting up of the company and the eventual use of the company and you would need to refer to Mr Ruddy for that detail’.
(Documented evidence produced before the inquiry disclosed that between April 1974 and September 1977 $667000 in cash had flowed into Sergi’s accounts.)
Mrs Campbell told the inquiry that, early in 1976, she had lodged a gift tax return with the Taxation Department for Tony Sergi’s father, Giuseppe Sergi, who had gifted $40000 to his four grandchildren (Tony Sergi’s children), indicating that the money had come from family assets of relatives in Italy.
When asked was there anything she could tell the commission respecting the illicit drug trade in NSW, Miss Campbell replied: ‘No’.
Towards the end of her evidence, Mr Justice Woodward commented that before clearing Mrs Campbell of ‘any questionable conduct’ regarding financial transactions he had to be ‘satisfied that she is entitled to be cleared’.
In his final report, Mr Justice Woodward said that explanation’s by Mrs Campbell on Trimbole’s discharge from bankruptcy did not satisfy him.
‘There were some aspects of the transaction which were peculiar and needed elucidation’, he said. Time did not permit him to return to the issue for further investigation.
When Trimbole was asked in the witness box why he went to Mrs Campbell, and not John Ruddy, he said that Ruddy had told him that Mrs Campbell was doing all his accounts at that time.
Trimbole added: ‘she was the one that was looking after the books and that was for John Ruddy at the time’.
Questioned as to arrangements made prior to discharge from bankruptcy to purchase a company, Trimbole said it was Duskjar Pty Ltd, and that it had had nothing to do with Mrs Campbell.
Then asked if he had at any time arranged to purchase a company through Mrs Campbell or through Finance Facilities, Trimbole said: ‘I don’t think so . . . I can’t remember, but I don’t think so’.
He admitted that, prior to his discharge from bankruptcy, arrangements had been entered into for land transactions involving expenditure of $657050.
Finance Facilities were involved in real estate, mining exploration, construction, hotels, finance, pastoral properties and manufacturing.
Mrs Campbell had been appointed secretary of the company on 13 April 1972, and was still listed as secretary on documents lodged with the NSW Corporate Affairs Commission in the latter half of 1978.
She was also listed with the Australian Associated Stock Exchanges as a member of the boards of a number of major companies — including Bridge Oil Ltd, Wynyard Holdings Ltd, Project Development Corporation Ltd, Project Mining Corporation Ltd, Australian Copper Mines N. L. and Aurora Minerals N. L.
As well as representing Mrs Campbell before the commission, Geraghty appeared himself to answer summonses to produce documents relating to John Edward Milligan, Peter Copko Investments Pty Ltd and Atlantic Exploration.
A witness, identified only as AF before the commission, and who admitted having faced charges of having Indian hemp seeds in 1976, told of having been in companies with Milligan, who had links with the French Mafia offshoot, Union Corse.
Testifying that he had been wheeling and dealing in real estate since 1972, AF said he had at one time worked for Parkes Development. He had been involved with Geraghty in two companies — Enterprise Stud Pty Ltd (which he described as a ‘legitimate horse stud’) and Bergin Street Investments.
Through Bergin Street Investments, one deal had been arranged to sell a property at Kingscliffe to Milligan for $89000. But Geraghty, who had handled the transaction, had later cancelled the contract.
In documents lodged with the NSW Corporate Affairs Commission by the receiver for Finance Facilities, Bergin Street Investments was listed as a sundry debtor for an amount of $9400, for ‘second mortgage real estate’.
For a four-year period, AF had used Ruddy and Associates for his accountancy work. Asked how they had become his accountants, AF explained: ‘Very simple. Back in 1969, something like that, they were in the same building as Parkes Development, 37 York Street, Sydney, and Barry Geraghty, leased Ruddy some office space on the fifth floor and that is how I came to know him (John Ruddy)’.
Geraghty also was on the boards of Bridge Oil Ltd, Wynyard Holdings Ltd, Project Development Corporation Ltd, Project Mining Corporation Ltd, Australian Copper Mines N. L. and Aurora Mineral N. L.
John Ruddy appeared before the commission, very early in the proceedings, but only to answer summonses to produce documents and was not called upon to detail any financial dealings.
Ruddy, before joining his late father in Ruddy and Associates, had worked as an assistant to the NSW Deputy Commissioner of Taxation, Mr Grey.
The person called upon to give evidence at length on behalf of Ruddy and Associates was Michael Anthony Maude, accountant.
In the past, Maude had worked for Argus Investments Pty Ltd, which controlled the Texas Tavern at Kings Cross (bearing no business relationship to a Texan Tavern run by the Trimbole family at Griffith).
Mrs Campbell’s husband, Laurie Campbell, also had been employed by Argus Investments when it ran the Texas Tavern, and was associated with Bernie Houghton, of the Nugan Hand Bank.
Argus Investments was originally set up by the Abe Saffron organisation.
Maude joined Ruddy and Associates in April 1976, specialising in handling financial transactions for Trimbole and Sergi.
Maude did the 1976 financial accounts for the partnership of Tony Sergi and his wife, Angelina (the 1975 accounts having been done by Mrs Campbell), but he told the commission that the accounts were not finalised because of a continuing taxation inquiry, as well as a problem in establishing Sergi’s share of a liquor partnership with Trimbole in Casula Cellars.
In evidence, Maude said that since July 1977, he had been collaborating with and assisting officers of the NSW Police Force, including the Fraud and Homicide Squads. The latter squad at that time began investigations into the disappearance of Griffith anti-drug campaigner Donald Mackay on 16 July 1977.
Maude told of ceasing his professional relationship with Trimbole in early June or late July 1977, but that he continued to act for Tony Sergi, at least up until late in 1977.
Maude said he had provided a full accounting service, relying on information supplied by the client to prepare account documents followed by tax returns. Part of the service was to give advice to the client as to ‘any detriment that might occur to him if he adopted a certain course, or any benefit that might occur to him if he adopted an alternative course’.
His evidence covered over thirty-six pages of official transcript, detailing the inner workings of the Trimbole and Sergi accounts, involving incomings and outgoings related to housing, real estate, a winery and other businesses.
Maude regularly travelled between Sydney and Griffith, first visiting the Sergi winery at Griffith in July 1976.
Considerable attention was paid by the commission to diary notes written by Maude regarding a meeting held in Sydney on 8 September 1977, with Tony Sergi from Griffith and Antonio Sergi and Pasquale Sergi, of Sydney, and which was later attended by Trimbole.
The meeting considered the transfer of shares in the company called Duskjar Pty Ltd. Maude said that Tony Sergi wanted to be dissociated from the other three persons in a business venture.
Maude acted in the interest of Sergi who, according to Maude’s evidence, was not aware until a couple of days before the meeting that he had a share in the company, with Maude explaining that ‘when he was informed he had a share in it, he requested that he be taken off that company’s shareholder record’.
Sergi had advised that he did not want to be involved in real estate transactions in Sydney, which was the concern of Duskjar Pty Ltd.
In a diary note on the meeting, addressed to John Ruddy, and tendered in evidence, Maude queried the effect on Sergi’s finances of a stated profit for a one-third interest in a liquor partnership involving Trimbole at Flemington.
After a reference claiming that the Flemington partnership profit for 1977 was $38000, Maude had written: ‘HO HO’. Which prompted Fisher QC to ask Maude: ‘Have you heard of an old expression, “You can tell it to the marines”?’
‘Yes’, answered Maude.
Fisher QC followed up: ‘You weren’t meaning that when you wrote in “HO HO”?, and Maude replied: ‘No’.
Maude said he had been doing the books for the Flemington business and, since no stocktake had been done and since he was aware that it was intended to sell the business, he thought the profit might have been inflated. His estimate had been $25000 to $28000.
Mr Justice Woodward reported that Ruddy and Associates, including Maude, ‘lacked the courage, born of experience, and the principle to reject Sergi as a client of honour and his explanation as not worthy of belief or acceptance’.
When Trimbole gave evidence, he was critical of Maude, saying that Maude was the reason he no longer had Ruddy and Associates doing his accounts.
Asked to give his version of the meeting mentioned in Maude’s diary notes, Trimbole said: ‘I might not have been there towards the end of it, because I never had much time for the gentleman — Mr Maude’.
Maude used to refer to Trimbole as ‘The Godfather’.
from Connections 1 by Bob Bottom
Illustration by Michael Fitzjames