Former ABC Learning boss escapes jail time

THE former chief financial officer of ABC Learning Centres has been jailed for 18 months but will not spend a day behind bars after he was released on immediate parole.

James Charles Black, 46, pleaded guilty earlier this month in the Brisbane District Court to making a false or misleading statement in December 2006, under the Corporations Act.

Black, who was pulling in $500,000 per year plus bonuses, is the first senior executive from ABC Learning to be jailed after the company collapsed in November 2008 with debts totalling more than $2.7 billion.

Disgraced businessman Eddy Groves established ABC Learning in 1988.

The Brisbane-based company became the largest childcare operator in the country, with thousands of centres across the nation.

At the height of its success the company was the largest publicly listed childcare operator in the world with a market capitalisation of $4.1 billion.

But it all came crashing down in 2008 as a result of the United States subprime mortgage crisis when debt repayments started overwhelming the company.

More than 35,000 Australians lost their money as a direct result of the company's collapse.

Commonwealth prosecutor Alan MacSporran told Black's sentencing hearing on Tuesday he had deliberately misled the company's auditors.

He said the deceit revolved around two false engagement letters about two transactions totalling $46.5 million between ABC Learning and ABC Acquisitions.

Mr MacSporran said the documents related to commission payments to ABC Acquisitions from the purchase of two overseas businesses in 2006.

Judge Anthony Rafter said the offence was particularly serious and his current position with Brisbane-based QCoal Group could be in jeopardy because of the conviction.

He accepted the father-of-three was not likely to reoffend.

"The offences were committed on the direction of Eddy Groves," he said.

"You were not the architect of the offence.

"But your actions resulted in $46.5 million being hidden from auditors."

Judge Rafter ordered a conviction be recorded and also placed Black on a $2000 good behaviour bond for two years.


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