‘Liar and trickster worthy of a Broadway musical’

 

Former Queensland Young Australian of the Year and Street Swags founder Jean Madden has been slammed in a scathing tribunal decision as a liar and a trickster whose "appalling" actions may amount to criminal conduct.

Details of shock allegations against Ms Madden can be revealed after an extraordinary Fair Work Commission case, including that she used $14,000 of the charity's money to pay her personal lawyer and gave her boyfriend a $130,000 a year job.

Fair work Commissioner Jennifer Hunt said she felt compelled to lay bare all the charity founder's conduct, which also included awarding her boyfriend a $528,000 contract to build cabins for homeless people.

Ms Hunt threw out Ms Madden's unfair dismissal claim against Street Swags last week, and in a damning character assessment described the woman as a trickster who audaciously fooled many around her using smoke and mirrors.

"I am not so easily fooled," Ms Hunt said in her 255-page examination of Ms Madden's actions while a director of Street Swags, which has provided 50,000 waterproof sleeping bags for the homeless nationwide since 2005.

"Regrettably, Ms Madden reminds me of the sleek lawyer and showman Mr Billy Flynn from the musical Chicago.

"As per the lyrics from his showcase song Razzle Dazzle 'Em, Ms Madden knows how to 'throw them a fake' and she is used to 'being a big bamboozler'."

 

Jean Madden was the founder of Street Swags.
Jean Madden was the founder of Street Swags.

 

The mother-of-two, named Queensland Young Australian of the Year in 2010, was sacked on May 19, 2016, for allegedly racking up $441,399 in unauthorised expenses.

The figure was later reduced significantly.

Two months later police charged her with fraud, but in December 2019 all charges were dropped, with no evidence being offered.

Ms Hunt was confused as to why Ms Madden would continue to pursue her unfair dismissal claim against her former employer when the commission hearing shone light on potential criminal conduct that might not have earlier been before the court.

Ms Madden told the commission she has been unemployed and on the dole since her sacking, and had applied for jobs as a chicken plucker.

Ms Hunt said her findings included full details of Ms Madden's actions, including duplicity and deceit, to lay bare all her conduct.

She said it was for the benefit of Madden's supporters, "whom I expect have been told many things over many years, probably only half-true" as she railed against Street Swags directors Adrian De Maria and Brian O'Reilly.

"She has established a fan base; a camp of supporters whom she has led to have them believe that (Adrian) De Maria and (Brian) O'Reilly were on some power trip to improperly overthrow a hardworking and diligent CEO from the charity she founded," Ms Hunt found.

Ms Hunt ruled that it was in fact Mr De Maria who caught "a sniff of the stench of unacceptable behaviour of Ms Madden".

She said that it was impossible to know where to start in describing the "appalling conduct" engaged in by Ms Madden in inappropriately spending charitable donations.

The swags are sewed by prisoners, and Nudgee College students help by rolling them up.

 

Street Swags founder Jean Madden at a prior court appearance
Street Swags founder Jean Madden at a prior court appearance

 

Ms Madden awarded her boyfriend Carl Weiss a $528,000 contract to build cabins for homeless people without getting approval from the charity's board, Ms Hunt found.

She said Ms Madden felt she was free to go on a "half-a-million-dollar-per-year frolic of her own" with the charity underwriting her decision.

She found that Ms Madden was living a fairytale to think that she would ever find 44 landowners who would let homeless people live on their land for free each year, and that homeless people could repay cabin loans with their dole payments.

"The use of a charity's money to pay to the CEO's boyfriend this payment, particularly in light of his declaration of his financial position is beyond extraordinary," Ms Hunt said in her decision.

"Ms Madden was, in my view, blinded by love, trying to do whatever she could to satisfy her dissatisfied and frustrated boyfriend, who had been sold a commercial promise that could never be fulfilled."

Ms Madden later arranged for her by-then-broke boyfriend Mr Weiss to get a $130,000-a-year job with Street Swags, a decision which Ms Hunt said was "beyond extraordinary" and the charity's staff agreeing to the salary was "almost cult-like".

"Ms Madden was not a competent and honest CEO, and in engaging in the behaviour that she did, she razzle dazzled Mr O'Reilly and Mr De Maria into believing that the cabins project was full steam ahead," Ms Hunt ruled.

Ms Hunt found that Ms Madden lied when she told Mr O'Reilly by text that she had 67 orders for cabins, and that law firm Clayton Utz was interested in buying $250,000 worth of cabins.

 

Jean Madden was likened to Billy Flynn in Chicago (played here by Tom Burlinson).
Jean Madden was likened to Billy Flynn in Chicago (played here by Tom Burlinson).

 

Ms Madden also put a cabin on a block of land she owned for use by her father, which cost Street Swags or associated organisation Walkabout Beds close to $30,000, without any evidence she paid a cent.

The commissioner found she also acted maliciously when she improperly tipped the company Walkabout Beds into administration in April 2016, and again acted maliciously when she diverted postal mail belonging to Street Swags.

Ms Hunt said administration of Walkabout Beds was "done to cause as much damage as possible".

Ms Hunt said throughout the seven-day hearing she had caught out Ms Madden with complete and obvious untruths.

"Her trickery and charisma would lead a hurried person to accept her explanations of "Oh, that wasn't paid" or 'I had deductions to cover that payment'," she said.

She said Ms Madden's actions were nothing short of astonishing.

Ms Madden was found to have completely fabricated her evidence to the commission that enough cash had been set aside to pay a her personal debt owing to her family law lawyers Crowley Greenhalgh.

Instead the commission found Ms Madden paid $14,400 from Street Swags related company Walkabout Beds to Crowley Greenhalgh in 2016, as well as found to have steamrolled fellow directors at board meetings if they resisted her plans.

Ms Hunt said it may be a matter for another court or tribunal to determine whether others were involved or implicated in Ms Madden's behaviour.

"I suspect no criminal activity of other Street Swag staff," Ms Hunt concluded.

Attempts by The Courier-Mail to contact Ms Madden were unsuccessful.

 

 

Jean Madden in one of her cabins
Jean Madden in one of her cabins

 

 

 

 

Originally published as 'Liar and trickster worthy of a Broadway musical'


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