No conviction for ex-Eels boss Scott Seward on salary breach fraud charge

Former Parramatta Eels chief executive Scott Seward has escaped conviction on salary cap fraud charge.
JANIE BARRETT/FAIRFAX

Former Parramatta Eels chief executive Scott Seward has escaped conviction on salary cap fraud charge.

Former Paramatta Eels boss Scott Seward says his decision to blow the whistle on salary cap breaches at the NRL club has been "justified" after a magistrate let him off without a conviction and instead pointed the finger at the board of directors.

Seward, 41, was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond without a conviction after he dishonestly obtained A$220,000 from the Parramatta Leagues Club through false invoices between November 2014 and mid-June 2015.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Chris O'Brien said Seward was unqualified when he took up the job at 38 and was entitled to feel "let down" by the since-sacked board of both the Parramatta Leagues Club and NRL Eels.

The magistrate said Seward repeatedly asked the board for help after receiving demands for cash from players and managers but was told to "fix the problem or they would find some who could".

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"Given that he was his family's sole breadwinner, it is not difficult to understand how his moral compass became so significantly compromised," O'Brien said on Thursday.

"I accept he felt a degree of desperation and coercion."

Seward hugged defence lawyer John Sutton after the sentence was delivered.

Outside court, Sutton said a harsher penalty may have stopped whistleblowers from coming forward.

Seward stated: "It (the result) justifies coming forward and doing the right thing."

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In a letter to the court, the ex-chief executive said his dream job at the club had become a "nightmare".

Facts tendered to the court show Seward had become aware of A$589,000 worth of outstanding cash payments promised to players by January 2014.

In a letter to the court, a former colleague described him becoming a "shell of his former self" as the pressure to fix the problem - which O'Brien described as a "diabolical mess" - grew.

The magistrate said the case was unusual because the board members, who were elected representatives of the victim organisations, "connived in the commission of the offence" and showed a "willingness to allow" it to happen.

He said at least some of the board members "created the circumstance that they then pressured the offender (Seward) to resolve".

"And in his seeking to do so, the offence ... was committed," O'Brien said.

Seward handed himself into NRL officials and then pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity to dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

He also admitted to a second charge, which was taken into account on sentencing, relating to an inflated service contract income of A$120,000.

Sutton hadn't asked for no conviction to be recorded but O'Brien said he had made the "somewhat unusal" decision to hand down a lighter sentence than what the offender's solicitor requested.

Seward was chief executive between September 2013 and June 2015 during which time the Eels were accused of systematically cheating the salary cap through third-party payments.

They were stripped of 12 competition points and fined A$750,000 in 2016.

The club's former football manager, Jason Irvine, has been charged with offences allegedly connected to Seward's crime.

Police say charges likely wouldn't have been laid without Seward's disclosures.

 

 - AAP

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