Durban school sues ex-principal who pleaded guilty to R5m fraud

Former Glenwood High School principal Trevor Kershaw pleaded guilty to fraud.
Former Glenwood High School principal Trevor Kershaw pleaded guilty to fraud.
Image: Google Image

Disgraced Glenwood Boys' High School headmaster Trevor Kershaw has pleaded guilty to defrauding the school out of more than R5.2m through duplicated claims, “home-made invoices” and manipulated vouchers.

Kershaw, now 58, was headmaster at the school from 1999 until 2016 when he resigned under a cloud. He now works as a storeman at a firm owned by his brother.

While he will serve no time in jail, R3m, being the cash value of assets which were seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit, will be released to the school.

Kershaw also has a 10-year suspended sentence hanging over his head and, under correctional supervision legislation, he will be under house arrest for three years and required to do community service and attend rehabilitation programmes.

The school is still suing him personally - and the auditors who signed off on the school’s financials between 2007 and 2016 - for damages relating to the 1,623 dodgy reimbursement claims he made and what it cost the school to pay for a forensic audit to determine the extent of his fraud.

In a plea bargain which was negotiated between his lawyers, Carl van der Merwe and advocate Gideon Scheltema SC, with prosecutor Wendy O’Brien, Kershaw says he is “remorseful”.

He says “due to an excessive workload” he did not keep the necessary documents to substantiate his reimbursement claims for “actual expenses” incurred on behalf of the school.

“Over time, he submitted claims on documents which had either been lost or replaced. Many were based on fictitious documents, not reflecting the disbursements accurately.

“He foresaw the possibility that the school was being misled but nevertheless continued ... with actual prejudice to the school.”

The agreement, which was signed off by specialist Durban commercial court magistrate Dawn Soomaroo on Thursday, stated that the most significant general ledger allocation was labelled under the reference “packer” - which totalled an unjustified claim for about R2.5m for additional remuneration.

Kershaw also claimed almost R1m through 107 homemade invoices for reimbursements.

Aggravating factors listed in the agreement were that he had abused a position of trust, that he was respected, that he had caused serious damage to the school’s reputation and had plunged the school into a financial crisis, which affected not only pupils but parents, many of whom struggled to pay school fees.

“The ultimate victims were the young impressionable school boys for whom the accused (Kershaw), given his position as headmaster, should have set a better example,” the agreement reads.

While the state believed it had a strong case against Kershaw, according to documents submitted in terms of the agreement, it was unlikely that two of its key witnesses would be able to testify because of ill health.

Investigating officer Col Piet du Plooy said two “crucial” state witnesses could not be exposed to stress at this time. One was more than 70 years old and having spinal surgery. The other had recently had a triple-bypass operation and had also been diagnosed with cancer.

And the school said it wanted “closure”.

In a letter submitted to the court, current principal Dr Andri Barnes said the school had been under “enormous financial pressure” because of Kershaw’s fraud and its financial resources were now depleted.

“Over the past three years, we have not replaced academic staff paid by the governing body in order to reduce our salary budget  to make ends meet and keep the school operational. As a result, the number of boys per class has increased which has compromised our standards of excellence.”

She said staff morale was at an all-time low. There was anger over the prolonged legal battle with Kershaw and there were divisions between parents and staff members over the issue.

“We are in favour of a non-custodial sentence and a settlement of R3 million would be in our interests,” she said.

Kershaw says he has been teaching underprivileged children at St Martins and he reads at Tape Aids for the Blind.

According to a correctional services report, he and his wife are living in a flat which belongs to his mother - who is in an old age home - since the family home was sold after it was “seized” by the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Magistrate Soomaroo granted a final confiscation order authorising that all proceeds which are being held by the court-appointed curator Trevor White, be paid directly to the school once his fees are paid.