Respected Queensland astrophotographer, Mark Culley, has been sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for three years, for defrauding the Professional Photographers’ Association of Queensland (PPAQ) of $21K over a three year period.
Culley (right) pleaded guilty to five charges, including two counts of forgery and uttering related to bank statements, one count of fraud, and two counts of uttering a financial report. His crimes were committed between June 2016 and November 2019, while he was in a ‘position of trust’ as the PPAQ treasurer and president. Over 59 transactions, he transferred a total of $23,180.63 from the PPAQ’s bank account into his own, using Photoshop to forge bank statements and financial reports.
The PPAQ, established in 1928, is Australia’s oldest professional photography association. And, well, the only remaining one!
Its current structure resembles the now-defunct Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), with PPAQ membership divided between Certified Professional Photographers (CPP) and Developing Photographer.
‘Our members can emphasise to their clients that they belong to Queensland’s longest standing association with stringent quality standards required of their membership,’ the website states.
The PPAQ’s mission is to ‘guarantee the highest standards in professional photography, ensuring exceptional imagery, business probity and client confidence.
‘PPAQ members nurture relationships with fellow professionals, clients and community; actively promote the Association and build membership; and commit to continuous learning and improvement.’
A former member informed Inside Imaging he joined the PPAQ in 2016, and when he joined the association had around $30K in the bank. It was a hive of activity with regular social meet ups and events. Annual membership fees amounted to around $150-200.
In the years that followed, PPAQ activity slowed down and member numbers dropped. There are currently 14 members listed as Certified Professional Photographers.
Culley is best-known for astrophotography and running workshops, as well as shooting weddings and portraiture. His two primary photographic businesses were Brisbane Camera Workshops and Fotojenic, and he was also an AIPP member. Beyond photography, he also ran a business called Brisbane Jumping Castle Hire.
Between 2017 to 2019, Culley shifted between the roles of PPAQ president and treasurer. And despite a two decade career working as a professional photographer, the court was told Culley’s businesses were not ‘doing so well’ during the three and a half years he was stealing from the PPAQ.
Culley’s Defence solicitor, Shannon Chen, described his criminal activity as ‘not really sophisticated’, and noted he was unemployed between 2015-16 and suffered from mental health issues. Although she acknowledges his actions were ‘just not excusable’.
‘He remembers it started off as a lapse of judgement. At the moment he was just trying to get some cash to cover his personal expenses and the expenses (of) his business,’ Ms Chen told The Courier Mail. ‘After realising what he had done, he made further mistakes, he made further wrong choices, and failed to come clean to his fellow members.
‘He then forged a financial report, forged bank statements, trying to cover up what he had done wrong.’
Culley utilised his post-processing skills, specifically Photoshop, to forge bank statements and financial reports, and forged the signature of an accountant. Magistrate Robert Walker described Culley’s efforts as ‘devious’, particularly as the falsified audit report dragged in an innocent person.
The PPAQ hasn’t yet addressed or acknowledged Culley’s crimes committed against the association. Inside Imaging contacted PPAQ president, Amanda Waschevski, who served as both president and treasurer while Culley defrauded the association. She said: ‘The PPAQ has nothing further to add with regard to this matter beyond the reported facts’.
Inside Imaging informed Waschevski that it was likely readers will provide further insight into the matter, as some details have yet to be reported. She responded:
‘We will be interested to see your approach to this article, especially as the circumstances outside of those reported by the courts can only be based upon conjecture and supposition. The ‘insight’ you request does not provide any fabric to your story, because the matter was revealed, investigated by the police and then prosecuted by the legal system.
I assume that you are looking for our views and a sensational headline, but as a professional association, we will not be part of that. I assume your readers will provide what you are after… “It was a scandal”, “It’s an outrage” etc. But none of those assist in providing a truth beyond the established facts, and when it comes to facts, we believe that those available from the court are the most appropriate response.
The PPAQ is now looking to move forward with the best interests of its members at the core of its future endeavours. If you would like to know more about how we assist professional photographers and the community at large, I would be more than happy to sit with you for a chat.’
We’re interested in knowing how the PPAQ found out Culley was skimming money from the accounts; how did Culley manage to defraud the association for so long given he was directly transferring money into his own account; what financial situation has this left the PPAQ in; and moving forward what safeguards will there be to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Culley’s prison sentence is wholly suspended for the operational period of three years, meaning he won’t serve time in jail provided he complies with set conditions. He is also ordered to pay back the $23,180.63 to PPAQ.
Inside Imaging has requested the court papers. Stay tuned!