News State Victoria News Ex-guide dogs boss avoids jail after stealing $200,000 to install a pool

Ex-guide dogs boss avoids jail after stealing $200,000 to install a pool

sandro cirianni ex-boss of guide dogs victoria
Cirianni pleaded guilty to three charges of obtaining advantage by deception. Photo: ABC
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

A Melbourne man has avoided jail after defrauding a guide dogs charity of more than $200,000 so he could renovate his home and install a pool.

Sandro Cirianni, 49, was instead given a three-year community correction order and fined $3750.

He submitted false invoices to Guide Dogs Victoria (GDV), where he was a general manager, and misused the organisation’s corporate credit and fuel cards.

The County Court in Melbourne heard that he spent it on installing a pool at his home, renovating his bathroom and putting a new roof on the house between April 2013 and March 2016.

The court heard Cirianni submitted 45 false invoices for home improvements totalling $178,413.

Judge Susan Cohen said the invoices were paid because building work was being done at GDV at the time.

He had also racked up $27,680 in personal credit card expenses and used corporate fuel cards to fund $4519 of fuel for personal use.

The court heard after Cirianni left the organisation in 2016, when GDV discovered it had paid for three air conditioners which could not be located in a stocktake.

After contacting the supplier, GDV learned the units had been installed in Cirianni’s home.

He ultimately paid the supplier $7222 but GDV then embarked on a forensic audit, which uncovered the other false invoices.

It also found he used a GDV credit card to pay for meals at restaurants, car washes and groceries.

Spared jail after paying back money

The court heard Cirianni was anxious about his health because of a long-standing heart condition and a diagnosis of brain cavernomas –bundles of blood vessels which can cause bleeding in the brain.

Judge Cohen told the court Cirianni admitted to the fraud at the time he was diagnosed.

“You thought you were going to die and took these monies thinking of the future of your family,” she said.

But she noted he had paid for a pool, a fence, a roof and a bathroom renovation rather than putting the money into education or other investments that might directly benefit his family.

If that had happened, she said, she “might have seen the connection more clearly to your mortality as the reason for offending”.

“I do not accept … that this was genuinely to provide for your wife and children,” Judge Cohen said.

She told him he had betrayed the organisation and its employees.

“That betrayal extends to the supporters of the organisation,” she said.

She rejected his claims it was a “terrible mistake”, saying the offending was not “rash or spontaneous”.

“That you continued for such a prolonged period does not indicate it was a mistake,” she said.

The court heard Cirianni had been given an award for being Not For Profit Manager of the Year in 2015.

Cirianni, of Bundoora in Melbourne’s north, pleaded guilty to three counts of obtaining advantage by deception.

Judge Cohen noted he was “well entrenched in the conduct” that brought him to the court.

In deciding not to send him to jail, Judge Cohen took into account the fact that Cirianni had paid back all of the money plus the cost of lawyers and auditors, and that he suffered significant health issues.

In a statement, Guide Dogs Victoria chief executive Karen Hayes said the organisation respected the decision.

“We would like to commend Victoria Police for their diligence in prosecuting this crime and ensuring that all funds were repaid immediately once discovered,” she said.

“It has been a long two years and we are glad there is now closure on this issue.”