Ex-Liberal staffer Frank Zumbo found guilty of indecently assaulting four women | Australia news

Frank Zumbo, the chief of staff to former Liberal MP Craig Kelly, has been found guilty of indecently assaulting four women – including exposing his penis to one while sitting on a park bench – over a number of years while working together in the politician’s electorate office.

On Friday, magistrate Gareth Christofi handed down his decision in the trial that began in June 2022 over 20 charges of sexual touching and indecent assault, as well as charges of common assault, that occurred between 2014 and 2020.

Christofi found Zumbo guilty of seven charges of aggravated indecent assault of a victim under authority of the offender, and one charge of assault with an act of indecency, which related to four women who worked in the Sutherland Shire electorate office.

Zumbo was acquitted of two charges of sexual touching a fifth woman who worked in the office, with the charge of common assault also dismissed.

Zumbo sat alone in court, behind his legal team, and appeared unmoved as each guilty verdict was read out.

The long-running trial heard evidence from several female staff members who alleged Zumbo groped them, sexually assaulted them and demanded displays of affection. The court has also heard several hours of covertly recorded conversations between Zumbo and the women.

He had pleaded not guilty to all charges. Zumbo had said that he regularly hugged and kissed the female staff because of his Italian heritage and because it was his normal way of greeting people, and that he wanted to make his office a “family environment”.

In one incident that took place in the Sydney suburb of Willoughby, Christofi found Zumbo guilty of aggravated indecent assault when he pulled a young staffer close to him and kissed her on the cheek. When she looked down, the woman saw his pants unzipped and his penis exposed.

Zumbo was also found guilty of indecent assault by placing his hand on the crotch of another young female staffer, as well as touching her breasts and kissing her on the lips without consent.

The court heard evidence the woman felt disgusted after the latter incident because Zumbo had “taken her first kiss away from her”, Christofi said.

“I thought nothing like that would happen until I’m married,” she texted a friend after the incident in what was later provided as evidence before the court. She told the friend she was no longer “pure”.

Christofi also found Zumbo had indecently assaulted a separate young women in an incident that occurred in his car when he was driving her to the electorate office – something he did each day. Having grown uncomfortable with his touching of her legs, she placed a cardigan over her legs when in the front passenger seat.

The woman claimed Zumbo grabbed the cardigan and threw it into the back seat, at which point he touched her thigh. The woman was recording the conversation at the time, in audio that was later heard as evidence.

When asked about the incident in court, Zumbo said he took the cardigan because he was concerned she wasn’t being honest with him about her perception of the temperature in the car, and that he was concerned the cardigan would be damaged by touching the floor of his car in that front seat.

Christofi said that Zumbo’s answers to these questions were not convincing, and “significantly eroded” the court’s confidence in his evidence.

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“I concluded that he was not always being honest with the court in his evidence,” Christofi said.

Another incident that constituted indecent assault occurred when Zumbo and a young woman sat in his car talking for several hours after he took her to a restaurant for dinner to celebrate her birthday – a conversation which was recorded by the woman and heard as evidence.

Zumbo told the woman he had feelings for her and that their relationship would develop into an intimate one in the future. He gave her a gift card as a birthday present, but became upset after the woman didn’t reciprocate with a hug and kiss, something he then asked for.

“To put it bluntly, he would not take no for an answer,” Christofi determined, characterising the conversation as Zumbo talking “at, not to” the woman, in an “oppressive” manner.

The court heard that several of the women were offered employment in the office while also receiving help with their legal degrees from Zumbo, and that several were concerned about the implications for their careers if they left the office on bad terms and couldn’t receive an employment reference.

Christofi found there was a “grossly lopsided power dynamic” that was “manipulative” and abusive.

Prosecutors unsuccessfully applied for a detention application.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 26 March.

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.

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