Former Sydney Ferries boss Geoff Smith (centre) leaves court after his sentencing. Photo: Sahlan HayesThe disgraced former Sydney Ferries boss says he had “no choice” but to put hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal expenses on his corporate credit card because “I was living beyond my means”.
Retired Rear Admiral Geoff Smith was sacked from his job as chief executive of the state-owned Sydney Ferries in March 2009 and referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption for racking up $273,000 in personal expenses for such things as jewellery, holidays, alcohol, groceries and private school fees.
Mr Smith, 64, a former chief of operations in the Royal Australian Navy, pleaded guilty in April to defrauding Sydney Ferries between May 2008 and February 2009.
In the Sydney District Court on Thursday, Judge Michael Finnane said he would sentence Mr Smith to two years’ jail.
However, he referred him for assessment for an intensive correction order, which is similar to home detention and involves wearing an electronic anklet.
Mr Smith is allowed to remain at home with his wife in Lindfield until the matter comes back to court in August.
A contrite Mr Smith told his sentencing hearing he “really had no choice” but to misuse the credit card because he was in such a dire financial position.
He said his $18,000 to $20,000 a month income was eaten up by monthly repayments of $11,500 on his $2 million St Ives home and paying off credit card debts.
“There was nothing extravagant about it; it was just the financial load I was carrying,” he said.
He said he always intended to repay the money by selling the family home, but he felt unable to tell his wife about their financial strife for months because she was being treated for severe depression and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
He said after moving house 32 times in 26 years because of his naval postings, the only thing his wife ever wanted was to settle down in their own home.
“She was in a fragile state. I worried if I spoke to her about selling the house, it would have a profound impact on her,” he said.
When he eventually sold the five-bedroom house in mid-2009, the sale price of $1.85 million was far short of the $2.2 million he expected.
The $400,000 difference prevented him from discharging the two mortgages over the property and from repaying Sydney Ferries, he said.
But the Crown prosecutor, Sara Bowers, said Mr Smith did not use the credit card to pay for the “necessities of life” but items such as jewellery and a family holiday to New Zealand.
Mr Smith said the holiday was necessary as “I needed to get my wife away”.
“You could have sold the two BMWs you drove rather than defraud Sydney Ferries,” Ms Bowers said.
“I could have,” he replied.
She submitted the only appropriate sentence was full-time custody for “such a grave abuse of his position”.
The former bankrupt has worked as a trade specialist at Chatswood Bunnings since February 2011.
He said the 72 job applications he submitted for managerial or consulting roles in 2010 were rejected.
He also said he intends to gradually pay back the money he owes Sydney Ferries.
“I never thought I would be working in the retail business given my background, but I’m very grateful for them giving me the opportunity to work,” he said.
Judge Finnane said Mr Smith is a decorated officer who had served his country for 36 years and this went above and beyond good character.