Bella Portofino manager Manuel Paradisis will face court for sentencing on Friday after admitting he pocketed thousands of dollars from a fundraising event held at his function centre in January last year.
Paradisis pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of fraudulently misappropriating almost $18,000 that had been raised during a charity function for Mt Warrigal builder George Testa, who was rendered a tetraplegic following complications during routine surgery in September 2014.
Court documents said Paradisis had approached the Testa family offering to host a fundraiser to help with the purchase of a specialised wheelchair for Mr Testa.
More than 400 people attended the January 31 event. A giant raffle – the main charity aspect of the night – raised $17,647.
The court heard that raffle money was counted around midnight and secured inside an A4-sized Parrammatta Eells pencil case, which was given to a Testa family member.
About three hours later, that family member handed the case to Paradisis for safe keeping.
All guests left the venue about 4am.
Mr Testa’s wife Faye contacted Paradisis on February 5 asking to pick up the raffle cash, however Paradisis said he would deposit the money into the account himself.
When the money was not in the account on February 16, Mrs Testa text messaged Paradisis, but he didn’t respond.
Mrs Testa contacted Paradisis a further six times in the next month asking for the money, but either didn’t receive a response or was told he was “still investigating” its whereabouts.
On March 24, Paradisis told the Testa family he didn’t remember being given the money at all, prompting Mrs Testa to speak to police.
A formal report was not made until May 5.
Paradisis was subsequently charged. He denied taking the money and had been due to attend a two-day hearing in Wollongong starting Thursday, however entered a guilty plea at the start of proceedings.
While the charge carries a maximum penalty of two years jail, Paradisis is expected to be handed a community service order in lieu of a prison sentence.
The case was adjourned overnight for a suitability assessment to be carried out.
What became of the missing money is yet to be disclosed in court.