On December 8, 2011, Belinda Lutz, an accounts manager in Queensland Health's 30-strong grants unit, was concerned about several unexplained payments uncovered as she reconciled the monthly accounts.
So she went to the finance division manager, 38-year-old Hohepa Hikairo "Joel" Morehu-Barlow.
The New Zealand-born Morehu-Barlow, despite having joined the public service as only a temporary administrative assistant in 2005, was a bureaucrat on the rise, in charge of approving tens of millions of dollars in grants.
The unit was responsible for doling out almost $1 billion to charities and health services annually.
Lutz saw something was very wrong when she found three unexplained payments -- two for $500,000 and one for $10.5m.
What she didn't know when she sought Morehu-Barlow's advice was that it was he who had stolen the money.
Brazen, and emboldened after four years of scamming -- which netted $16.6m and funded an extravagant lifestyle -- Morehu-Barlow dismissed Lutz's concerns, waving fake documents at her purporting to show the grants had been approved at the highest level of Queensland Health.
Lutz retreated to her desk.
But she was angry and confused, especially as Morehu-Barlow wouldn't let her inspect the documents closely or cross-check them.
She went through the books again and an hour later -- just after lunch -- went back to confront Morehu-Barlow and demand an official investigation.
But he had disappeared and wasn't answering his phone.
It was then Lutz did a simple internet search of the entity that had received the missing millions -- Healthy Initiatives and Choices -- and discovered it was owned by Morehu-Barlow.
At about 3pm Lutz went to another senior manager, who discovered a double payment -- two payments to two different bank accounts for the same invoice.
All hell broke loose.
The department's ethical standards investigators arrived, and it didn't take much convincing for them to call the police.
Within half an hour, police officers had inspected and frozen Morehu-Barlow's bank account -- which contained $4m -- and then-premier Anna Bligh, facing an election within months, was briefed by red-faced Queensland Health bosses who for several days were unable to quantify the precise extent of their star's financial maleficence.
In March 2013, Morehu-Barlow was sentenced to 14 years in jail for the swindle between 2007 and 2011.
But serious questions remain about how an already convicted fraudster got away with it for so long.
Morehu-Barlow was hardly discreet with his ill-gotten riches.
Despite earning a salary of $100,000 a year, the gay bureaucrat -- a regular on Brisbane's social scene who had a well-known penchant for cross-dressing -- lived the high life.
He had an obsessive love of Louis Vuitton, becoming such a valued customer that the label flew him to a store opening in Singapore as a VIP guest.
He splashed money and gifts on friends and colleagues, once throwing a party at an inner-city nightclub that cost more than $100,000.
At Queensland Health, he lavished gifts on workmates, including bosses.
He gave chocolates, perfume and flowers, before becoming even bolder and giving $10,000 to a colleague who had complained of financial difficulties.
No one questioned his largesse because he claimed to be the scion of royalty.
In emails, he would sign off as "HRH Hohepa Hikairo Morehu-Barlow".
His lawyer, Legal Aid's David Shepherd, blamed the bureaucracy's "human failing and systemic weakness".
"It was a simple fraud which involved an extraordinary amount of money . . . which was bound to be discovered," Shepherd told the court after his client pleaded guilty. "There were so many signposts that could have been used to discover this right from the very beginning."
In 2011, one of Morehu-Barlow's aunts had anonymously emailed Queensland Health, warning of an unnamed public servant in "the finance area" with convictions for ripping off the New Zealand government who was fleecing the department through dodgy grants.
Nobody checked the potential pool of 330 public servants for convictions.
The internal probe was dropped with the approval of the CMC after it was concluded it would be an impossible scam.
Prince of thieves undone, Michael McKenna and Sarah Elks, The Australian, 25 March 2013 : http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/prince-of-thieves-undone/story-e6frg6z6-1226604536146