Principal embezzled to keep school

A PRIVATE school principal who defrauded the Education Department of more than $1.8 million was sentenced to three years’ prison in Lismore District Court yesterday.

Lyn James Mazey, 60, of Ellanora, Queensland, will serve 15 months.

Mazey was the founding principal of Lakeside Christian College, which opened in 2000 at Tweed Heads.

When the school ran into financial difficulties – partly as a result of unpaid fees – Mazey lied on the Education Department’s online census, claiming funding for students who were no longer at the school.

It is believed he claimed for twice as many enrolments as the school really had.

The fraud continued for at least three years and by May 2007 the school was unable to pay its teachers.

Mazey approached the staff and negotiated a 10 per cent reduction in pay.

When a Christian Schools Australia accountant found financial irregularities at the school, the school board sacked Mr Mazey and referred the matter to the State and Federal education departments.

His lawyer, Gregory McGuire, said Mazey had never been motivated by personal gain.

“He didn’t line his own pockets,” he said.

For several years he had earned a little more than $40,000 a year – much less than a principal of such a school could demand.

“Mr Mazey’s only aim was to try to keep the school he loved from closing,” Mr McGuire said.

“Yes, he exaggerated figures on the census, but he did it to save the school, and to save jobs for the teachers he considers like family,” he said.

“He couldn’t bear to get rid of any of the staff.”

Asked by the Crown why he had not resigned when faced with the dilemma of finding more funding, Mazey said: “Because I loved the school, the families, the kids.”

Despite what he had done, Mr Mazey was still held in high regard by people he had worked with at the school, Mr McGuire said.

Mazey had remained as principal until the end of 2007, when he had been interviewed by investigators from the Education Department and stood down.

He had considered suicide that night when he had to face confessing to what he had been up to.

His wife had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result and had been confined to bed for months after.

A teacher since 1971, Mazey had been unable to find work in the education sector.

When his wife recovered a little, Mazey and she opened a florist’s shop in Burleigh Heads.

A character witness, Noel Collins, of Banora Point, said Lakeside had been a ‘magnificent’ school under Mazey’s leadership.

The children, many of whom came from single-parent families, were ‘well-dressed and well-behaved’, Mr Collins said, and the atmosphere had been ‘wonderful’.

The Crown Prosecutor said he was not convinced that Mazey had any real insight into the harm he had done to taxpayers and to other schools that had been denied funding as a result of his actions.

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