Numbers central to fraud trial

Questions over attendance figures and the complexities of accounting software dominated the second day of the fraud trial for former childcare centre owner Trixie Leigh at the Hamilton District Court yesterday.

Leigh is accused of four counts of using a document for pecuniary advantage.

The former owner of Trixie's Learning Centre and Trixie's Early Learning Centre - Babies, Leigh had allegedly submitted four forms to the Ministry of Education during the first half of 2012 in which she exaggerated the number of children attending the two centres and the hours they were there.

This resulted in the allocation of $327,000 the ministry says the two businesses were not entitled to.

None of that money has been recovered by the ministry.

Ministry early childhood education learning support group manager Karl Le Quesne took the stand yesterday and was examined by Crown prosecutor Philip Crayton, and cross-examined by defence lawyer Sasha Nepe.

Le Quesne, who reviewed the figures for both centres that Leigh provided to the ministry through the RS7 returns forms, was asked several questions by Crayton about the methodology Leigh and other childcare centre managers used to record attendance - including the "wash-up" which compares actual hours of attendance to the funding that would have been advanced by the ministry.

"It's the main piece of data we rely on," Le Quesne said.

Crayton also queried whether the figures provided by Leigh pointed to a "preponderance of qualified staff" working at the two centres.

Le Quesne explained the funding rate provided by the ministry for children under two was much higher than for older children.

"It required double the number of teachers . . . It essentially doubles the cost of your staff."

Nepe asked Le Quesne questions on whether the two centres were affected by the advent of the school holidays and, although he could not say for sure, he remained doubtful.

"The roles can fluctuate through the year, as families move in and out of the area. If we see large advances we start to get concerned."

Nepe then asked: "Once the overpayment was discovered, are you able to comment [on] where the money went?

Le Quesne replied: "No . . . At the point [the centres] closed, we were trying to recover the funding."

Also taking the witness stand yesterday was ministry auditor Linley George, who picked up on alleged discrepancies in Leigh's returns during an audit of the businesses in October 2012; and Simon Sherwood, an Auckland-based information technology expert whose firm Skagerrak Software created the FirstBase childcare administration system that Leigh purchased to run her businesses in 2005.

The trial, under Judge Barney Thomas, is expected to continue until Thursday. 

Waikato Times