It was one overseas trip too many for Murray Noone. The Auckland Transport senior manager's European holiday in May 2013 triggered a chain of events that yesterday saw him and Stephen Borlase of roading contractor Projenz convicted of corruption in the High Court at Auckland.
Justice Sally Fitzgerald, in the written explanation of her verdicts, recorded how this month-long holiday required another Auckland Transport staff member to take over Noone's work - and the replacement expressed "reservations" at approving a number of payments awaiting authorisation left on his desk.
These concerns, over $300,000 due to be paid to Projenz, were enough to spark investigations, first by PWC that revealed Noone had been receiving undisclosed monthly five-figure payments from the company for seven years and led to his sacking, and then by the Serious Fraud Office that ended with him and Borlase found guilty.
Noone was convicted on six counts of being party to bribing public officials, while Borlase was convicted on eight charges.
Borlase was found not guilty on another four charges, of inflating invoices to cover the cost of bribes to Noone, but Justice Fitzgerald said if she were ruling against the civil standard - where the balance of probabilities is weighed, rather than the beyond reasonable doubt used in criminal cases -"the outcome might have been different".
The pair were found to have engaged in a pattern of transactions that saw Noone receive $1.1m in cash, and $84,000 in travel and other benefits - including international holidays to Amsterdam, Dubai, Singapore and Australia - relating to his job awarding roading contracts between 2006 and 2013.
The court heard during the seven-week trial that Projenz, largely on the back of contracts awarded by Noone and his team, had grown from barely breaking even on revenues of $1.2m before the corrupt relationship began, to making profits of $3.8m from revenues of $8.2m when it was finally uncovered.
Noone bolstered his substantial six-figure salary, first at Rodney District Council and later at the successor body Auckland Transport where he held senior full-time roles, with monthly payments from Projenz of between $8000 and $10,000. His ex-wife told the court while she had no direct knowledge of household finances: "I knew Noone was earning good money as we enjoyed a very good lifestyle".
Justice Fitzgerald had found the defence of Noone and Borlase - that these payments were in relation to the provision of contracting services unrelated to the council roading deals - "implausible".
Noone did not speak in his defence. And while Borlase gave evidence for five days, Justice Fitzgerald was not persuaded with his testimony.
"He came across as an intelligent and articulate witness. In the main, however, I did not find Mr Borlase to be a credible witness."
Claims the relationship between Noone and Projenz was informal and verbal-only during the seven-year duration of the relationship - explaining the total lack of documentation - "defies common sense," Justice Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald's also traversed the numerous occasions where Noone and Borlase should have, but did not, disclose the financial relationship between them.
"I infer from this lack of disclosure that both Noone and Borlase knew these arrangements were wrong," she told a public gallery packed with senior council figures.
While the trial heard from many witnesses who said the contracting processes at Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport were robust, participants told the court they were alarmed when informed of the substantial undeclared payments Noone was getting from Projenz.
"It just throws into question the whole propriety and probity of the whole process," one said.
In a statement yesterday Auckland Transport boss David Warburton sought to draw a line under the corruption of Noone and his deputy Barrie George, who had pleaded guilty to similar charges on the eve of trial.
"Their actions are not an indication of any sort of system failure but rather those of two individuals betraying the trust placed in them," Warburton said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the guilty verdicts and said he written to council-controlled organisations and council chief executive Stephen Town to reinforce a zero tolerance of fraud and corruption.
"I'll be getting the audit and risk committee next year to run the rule over the various groups, getting them to indicate which parts of their business might be exposed to risk, how they obtain assurance about in internal control," he said.
Noone and Borlase were stone-faced as the guilty verdicts were delivered, and lawyers for both declined to speculate on the possibility of appealing their convictions. Fitzgerald remanded Noone and Borlase on bail ahead of a February 22 sentencing hearing.