By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Casey councillor Sam Aziz pledged to support property developer John Woodman’s intention to sue Casey Council, according to a secret recording revealed in an IBAC hearing.
“Whatever I can do to help him,” Cr Aziz told Mr Woodman’s lobbyist Lorraine Wreford in a central Melbourne cafe on 1 February.
At the time, Mr Woodman was considering a defamation suit against the council over media allegations that he’d bullied council staff.
Cr Aziz appeared to offer to get hold of council documents if Mr Woodman was unable to subpoena them.
At the IBAC Operation Sandon hearing on 27 November, Ms Wreford agreed with Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, that it was “pretty shocking in terms of … appropriate allegiance”.
“I think Mr Aziz wanted his payments from Mr Woodman,” Ms Wreford said.
“So I think he was prepared to do anything.”
In the same cafe sitting, Cr Aziz was recorded saying that “we have taken over Casey” and had plans to do the same at Yarra Ranges Council.
Fellow councillor Amanda Stapledon intended to meet with property John Woodman to discuss the plan, he told Ms Wreford.
“Basically, Yarra Ranges we want to take it over it over the same way we’ve taken over Casey.
“And there’s another businessman we are working with closely to make that happen.”
With six out of nine councillors set to retire before the next election, “we only really need to get two elected to get a majority,” Cr Aziz said.
Ms Wreford told the IBAC hearing that she thought Cr Aziz at the time was just “big-noting himself”.
“He might have thought he had taken over the City of Casey but I don’t think other people thought that was the case.”
She said that at times she thought Cr Aziz, who was going through a divorce, had been drinking during his text messages to her.
He was “mentally unstable” – at times his “normal intelligent self”, at other times threatening to suicide.
“He was up and down like a yo-yo and saying all sorts of almost hysterical things to me at times.”
During the meeting, Cr Aziz was being delivered cash by Ms Wreford, purportedly part of a monthly $25,000 fee as a Smart Cities consultant with Mr Woodman.
Ms Wreford conceded the monthly $2000-cash-delivered component couriered to him looked “corrupt”.
“How are you going to present it to me without it looking like a drug deal?” Cr Aziz says as they sit in the cafe.
They walk outside, and the transaction is done in Cr Aziz’s car.
She agreed with Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, that Cr Aziz seemed to see Mr Woodman as a “bottomless ATM”.
Ms Wreford told the hearing that Cr Aziz had told her that he was owed $600,000 by Mr Woodman though she said she wasn’t aware of why this was so.
Cr Aziz kept coming up with “wild ideas” for Mr Woodman – who he dubbed ‘Blood Donor’ – to pay him the money, she said.
In a tapped Whats App message, Cr Aziz suggests that Mr Woodman buys Cr Aziz’s Barak Avenue house for $750,000, paying out the $490,000 mortgage, allowing Cr Aziz to live in it rent free and transferring the property back to Cr Aziz in August 2020.
“He seemed very desperate for money,” Ms Wreford said.
“My jaw dropped when I saw the text. I couldn’t believe that he had even thought of it.”
Mr Woodman stalled on the transaction, citing pressure from allegations in The Age newspaper regarding his association with Cr Aziz.
During the delays, Cr Aziz acted “irrational”, “demanding” and “said things that don’t make sense”, Cr Wreford said.
In a text in November 2018, he threatened to reverse the Hall Road H3 intersection motion – which Mr Woodman had lobbied for.
“You have placed me in a corner where I have nothing to lose and I’ll be seeing a lawyer at 3pm today.”
Ms Wreford told the hearing: “I was quite convinced he had been drinking, but anyway.”
Cr Aziz also received up to $5000 a month as a consultant to source rich Chinese buyers of steeds for Spicer Thoroughbreds.
Ms Wreford – whose partner Bernard Lee worked at the business – agreed that it was “a vehicle being used to explain away funds going to Mr Aziz”.