After years of denial the Far North District Council has admitted concerns were raised about former employee and convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison within weeks of hiring her as a senior manager.
That contradicts statements made to the Advocate since at least 2017 — when Harrison was jailed for defrauding the Ministry of Transport of $720,000 — that there were no concerns during her time with the council.
Harrison, also known as Joanne Sharp, was deported to the UK in 2019 after serving most of her sentence.
Before she was employed by the ministry, Harrison worked at Tower Insurance — where she also committed fraud — and then at the Far North District Council, where she held a senior HR role from June 2007 to October 2008.
Given that her time in the Far North was bookended by frauds at Tower and the Transport Ministry, the Advocate asked the council a number of times if it had any concerns about Harrison and whether any ratepayer money might have been misappropriated.
The council has repeatedly said there were no issues.
In July 2017 a council spokesman told the Advocate no concerns were raised about Harrison at the time and no investigation had been carried out because there had been no indication, then or subsequently, of financial inconsistencies as a result of her employment.
However, an investigation by Stuff Circuit has revealed the council was tipped off to Harrison's Tower Insurance fraud within weeks of hiring her, and that she resigned the following year when a conviction and anomalies with her CV came to light.
In a statement subsequently released to the Advocate the council said it investigated the initial allegation by contacting police, hiring a private investigator and contacting Harrison's lawyer, but no information was forthcoming.
The council then confronted Harrison, who denied the claims and said she had been framed.
Later, when the council learned Harrison had been convicted in July 2007 of the Tower Insurance fraud, it confronted her again.
This time her lawyer told the council it couldn't use information about the conviction against her because it had been suppressed by the courts.
However, Harrison agreed to resign after the council raised questions about the accuracy of her CV. A settlement was reached and her employment was terminated on October 10, 2008.
The council would not say how much Harrison was paid out, citing legal privilege.
Stuff started asking questions about Harrison in 2018 and laid a complaint with the Ombudsman when the council wouldn't release information.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier ruled that the council was right to withhold the full information about Harrison's employment, but given the degree of public interest it should have released a summary. That summary was later also released to the Advocate.
The Advocate's most recent request for information was under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act in February this year.
That was refused on grounds including protecting information subject to an obligation of confidence and protecting a person's privacy.
The Advocate also lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman but has yet to receive a response.
After leaving the council Harrison took a senior management job at the Corrections Department.
While employed there Harrison altered a wage slip so she could claim a domestic purposes benefit. The fake slip showed she was earning $482 a week when she was in fact making $1842.
That fraud, between December 2008 and April 2009, earned her an extra two months in jail.
In June 2019 police seized Harrison's home at Waimate North along with cash, jewellery and a car under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.
Harrison created a new identity, Joanne Middleton, when she returned to the UK last year and again conned her way into high-paying HR jobs.
The FNDC responds
The Far North District Council says it previously told the Advocate and other media organisations there were no concerns about Joanne Harrison because the questions were ''made in the context of her fraud against the Ministry of Transport ... Media responses about Ms Harrison from the council were in respect of its financial concerns, specifically in relation to her time at the council. The council did look into Ms Harrison's department at FNDC but found no financial inconsistencies.''
The council's people and capability manager, Jill Coyle, said concerns of inconsistencies relating to work history were raised in the latter part of Harrison's tenure.
''These inconsistencies were addressed with Ms Harrison which resulted in her resignation. Concerns relating to work history inconsistencies were not addressed in media responses due to council being bound by confidentiality regarding the settlement reached between Ms Harrison and council.''
While the latest council statement says staff looked into Harrison's department but found no financial inconsistencies, that appears to contradict a statement in 2017 that no investigation was carried out because there had been no indication of financial inconsistencies.
Advocate enquiries about Harrison referred to concerns in general, not just financial concerns.