Woman used fake degree to become teacher, court told

Rex Martinich |

Angela McKinnon bought a fake degree online and worked as an unqualified early childhood teacher.
Angela McKinnon bought a fake degree online and worked as an unqualified early childhood teacher.

The case of a woman who bought a fake degree online and worked as an unqualified early childhood teacher has been compared to the fictional TV series Suits.

Angela Marie McKinnon, 53, faced Brisbane District Court on Wednesday for sentencing after pleading guilty to uttering a forged document with intent to defraud and dishonestly gaining a pecuniary benefit as an employee of at least $30,000.

The court heard McKinnon obtained a fake Queensland University of Technology degree with academic transcripts at some point after November 2019 and used it to apply for a job at G8 Education, which operates more than 400 early learning and care centres across Australia.

The crown prosecutor said she was hired after three interviews and worked for 18 months in an early childhood teaching position without the required qualifications.

“That then earned her about $39,000 more than she would have earned as an early childhood assistant,” the prosecutor said.

Prosecutor Joshua Francis said McKinnon was not like other offenders who had pretended to be qualified for life and death medical situations but there had been the potential to harm children despite it not occurring in this case.

McKinnon’s barrister, Lachlan Ygoa-McKeown, said it was difficult to find similar past cases and compared her offending to the central premise of the American legal drama series Suits.

“People these days would be quite familiar with the TV show Suits where a man holds himself out to be a lawyer when he is not,” Mr Ygoa-McKeown said.

A check of multiple teachers’ qualifications by the Queensland Department of Education revealed QUT never had a graduate with McKinnon’s name, and the student ID number on the qualifications did not exist.

McKinnon was then sacked by G8 Education about August 2021.

Mr Ygoa-McKeown said McKinnon had no prior criminal record and her offending was completely out of character.

He pointed to a psychiatrist’s opinion that her mental health struggles after discovering she was adopted might have affected her judgment.

“She wishes to make full restitution,” Mr Ygoa-McKeown said.

Judge John Coker said McKinnon’s offending was serious, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment, but he accepted she was genuinely remorseful in part due to her reporting her own offending to police.

“Clearly there is the expectation in the community … that people seen as lawyers and teachers have the qualifications they say they have,” Judge Coker said.

He accepted a psychiatrist’s report that found McKinnon had formed a rudimentary plan to use a fake degree in response to her family’s financial problems.

McKinnon was sentenced to two years’ jail, wholly suspended for four years and was ordered to complete her repayments to G8 Education.

“Ms McKinnon, you certainly made a terrible mistake. I trust you will not be mistaken further,” Judge Coker said.