The face of a national charity campaign being promoted by supermarket giant Woolworths is a convicted fraudster who spent months behind bars.
Rochelle Courtenay has been widely hailed a hero for her very public efforts to donate sanitary pads to the homeless through her Share The Dignity charity.
But an investigation by Daily Mail Australia has uncovered the dubious past of the charity hero known as ‘Pad Lady’ amid complaints that donated products are not being properly collected or delivered to those in need.
Ms Courtenay has fiercely denied the accusations and claimed the charity needed even more products for the homeless.
Since forming the partnership earlier this year, Woolworths has donated five cents from every pack of sanitary items sold, including pads, tampons, liners or period briefs, across its stores nationally to the charity.
Rochelle Courtenay is a convicted fraudster who ripped off her own friends and allegedly stole her charity from another woman
Supermarket giant Woolworths has backed Courtenay’s charity and is donating money from its sales
Rochelle Courtenay has been nominated for prestigious honours despite being a convicted criminal who served time in jail for fraud
While Ms Courtenay has previously revealed via her Facebook page that she once did time for ‘white collar’ crime, Daily Mail Australia can reveal she was in fact jailed in 2010 after she fleeced her employers out of more than $90,000 because she thought she wasn’t being paid enough.
She was jailed for six months after receiving a three-year suspended sentence.
Ms Courtenay’s charitable efforts have been well received in public circles, with the director making the top four of Queensland’s Australian of the Year twice.
She has received wide support from numerous celebrities and was recently backed with an online video by Australian comic Christian Hull, who has more than 600,000 followers on Facebook.
A Google search of prior offending under Ms Courtenay’s name does not bring up any details of her crime.
That’s because Ms Courtenay has changed her name not once, but twice since she was jailed for ripping off the family-owned beauty supplies business.
A Salon Pacific Supplies employee has confirmed in those days Ms Courtenay was known as Rochelle Maurece Rostirolla.
Ms Courtenay told Daily Mail Australia she had simply changed her name back to her maiden name and had held ‘open discussions’ with supporters about her past.
‘My past is not who I am. My past may have determined who I am now, but it’s not who I am,’ she said. ‘I made mistakes – lots of people make mistakes and I’ve paid the price for that mistake and we’ve moved on.’
Rochelle Courtenay and husband Shayne Gilbert. Courtenay is a convicted fraudster who has changed her name twice
Rochelle Courtenay and husband Shayne Gilbert at an event. Courtenay has long claimed she founded Share The Dignity
Ms Courtenay had been personal friends with the directors of the beauty supplies company, which she went onto defraud $91,120 between June 2005 and August 2008.
The court was told Ms Courtenay either transferred the company’s money to her credit card accounts or used it to pay personal debts such as washing the dog, pool maintenance, children’s photographic portraits, gym fees and holidays.
When she was first confronted about the missing money in 2007, she became irate, Brisbane Times reported, and told the owner not to go into her office.
On another occasion, she denied ripping off the business, saying, ‘I’m simply hopeless at keeping receipts.’
She eventually pleaded guilty in the District Court in Brisbane to the offences.
But her lawyer said she had her reasons: ‘She did, however … work very long hours in the operation of the business. She didn’t feel she was being fairly paid.’
Ms Courtenay sold her Queensland home to make a restitution payment of $158,000 to the company owners.
Ms Courtenay on Friday assured the charity’s supporters that she was completely above board and was not a signatory on any bank accounts.
‘I’ve made it very, very clear right from the very word no-one has anything to lose and I would never put myself in any situation where anyone could turn around and point the finger at me,’ she said.
The charity champion, who is referred to as ‘The Pad Lady’, claims she started the organisation in 2015 after reading that homeless women Australia-wide were making sanitary pads out of public restroom toilet paper because they couldn’t afford to buy them.
It is a story she has told repeatedly.
But Daily Mail Australia has been told Ms Courtenay not only ‘stole’ the Share The Dignity name, but allegedly bullied other kind-hearted Australians out of their own charitable endeavours.
Facebook posts in January 2015 reveal a woman named Heather Ranger founded the charity after reading about the plight of homeless women on the news website Mamamia.
How it began: Heather Ranger declares she is going to do something about homeless women. It is claimed she not only founded Share The Dignity, but was locked out of it by Courtenay
Heather Ranger promotes Share The Dignity in May 2015 before Rochelle Courtenay registered the name and took control
Heather Ranger in 2015 before the charity she founded was taken over by Rochelle Courtenay
Within a month Ms Ranger had started Share The Dignity, organising an event for people to donate pads at the Boondall Scout Hall in Queensland.
She established the charity’s Facebook page and continued to lobby local schools and organisations to donate.
Within months of starting the charity, Ms Ranger met Ms Courtenay who allegedly took over the running of the site and then locked her out, registering the charity shortly after.
Ms Courtenay maintained she was the founder of the charity and that Ms Ranger had given up on it.
‘The real story was we had a group called Charity Chicks … and Heather Ranger’s son was my personal training client and she used to help me,’ she said.
‘When she shared that article, my daughter did the first post-up and it was really something that we did together.’
Ms Courtenay said when the article went viral, Ms Ranger came to her and said she wanted out.
‘She said it was taking all to much time,’ she said. ‘She said I work full time and I get headaches and I don’t want to do it.’
Ms Courtenay denied she locked her out of the charity’s Facebook page.
‘She didn’t want to have anything to do with it,’ she said.
Historical checks on Courtenay’s ABN shows she registered a business number under a slight variation of her name in 2011 – to start a personal training business – before registering another number under the Courtenay name in May 2014.
Rochelle Courtenay and husband Shayne Gilbert. Courtenay is a convicted fraudster who has changed her name twice
Further questions have been raised about the charity’s distribution of the donated items and how donated funds are actually being spent.
A financial report from the year ending June 2018 – the most recent available – shows the charity still had a little under $1.3 million sitting in the bank.
It came amid a heavily publicised drive from the charity to raise money for its ‘world-first Dignity Vending Machines, known as the Pinkbox’.
The vending machines are purposely designed to dispense a free pack of sanitary items.
Ms Courtenay has claimed the vending machine costs $9000 to manufacture, deliver, install and stock with 1000 Period Packs (which cost $2.50 per pack).
In Courtenay’s director’s report, she states `we will continue our fundraising efforts in 2018/19 to ensure we reach the $600,000 shortfall needed to fund the next 100 machines’.
However, its financial records go onto show it spent just $202,539 on the 100 machines it purchased that year – at a cost of about $2000 a unit, which experts believe is about the right price.
‘Every vending machine we install, we also put away $5000 – if anything happened like the GFC and everyone stopped donating we have to make sure that those vending machines are not dry. And that’s just good planning,’ she said.
‘We never had any expenses as a charity. Our office was from my home, we don’t pay phone bills, we don’t have cars – we don’t have any of that. What we were doing was saving for our vending machines and saving to be able to make the payments on those. We were being financially responsible.’
Ms Courtenay said the $200,000 figure was actually the cost of 20 machines, not the 100 stated in financial records.
‘In this last financial year is where we were able to buy another – I think the first year we had 30 machines, and then 20 machines because we changed suppliers as well.”
Ms Courtenay said the charity had ordered 50 more vending machines in the past financial year.
Sources have told Daily Mail Australia that kind-hearted Australians who had rallied to collect items for the charity have been unable to have them collected.
Meanwhile other charitable organisations have been forced to pick-up the slack.
One source told Daily Mail Australia there were warehouses full of donated items just sitting there and more items waiting to be delivered across the country.
‘They can’t shift it all. People collect product for them then no-one will answer them to pass it over … they don’t want the product. They just want the money,’ the source said. ‘Have a look at all their fundraisers. And all the numbers of bags and sanitary items she says she’s collected. There just aren’t that many homeless women they can reach.’
Ms Courtenay dismissed the claims.
‘I would like to see where we have got sheds full of product,’ she said.
The charity head said it had collected 1.9 million packets of pads since its inception and needed more.
The organisation’s volunteers deliver the products to agencies who then forward on the goods to those in need, she said.
‘I feel sorry for the people who feel they need to bring me down,’ she said.
A message from a kind-hearted Aussie who could not get a hold of anyone from Share the Dignity to drop off the items
Donna Stolzenberg, from Melbourne’s National Homeless Collective, said her organisation had picked up a lot of Share The Dignity’s donations when no one from the charity could be contacted to collect them.
Many items are from Share The Dignity’s ‘It’s in the bag’ campaign, which calls for people to donate a pre-loved or new handbag filled with sanitary items.
‘We’ve collected several hundred handbags and thousands of sanitary items,’ she said. ‘The actual handbag drive is not very well thought out because people on the street need backpacks. Not handbags.
‘Handbags get stolen and are hard to carry with you all day, every day have no place to put it down.’
Adelaide’s Essentials 4 Women SA co-founder Amy Rust said Ms Courtenay tried to ‘muscle’ her little charitable organisation out of action back in 2015.
Ms Rust said Ms Courtenay became furious when she refused to join forces with her charity.
‘She got pretty offended and said “Oh well I’ve got all this exposure and essentially we’re just going to blow you out of the water, there’s going to be no point to you”,’ she said.
She said Ms Courtenay then blocked the charity from its Facebook page.
Ms Courtenay described the claims as ‘a load of rubbish’.
‘They were not interested. It was all about what they were going to do so each to their own. They were doing something different to us. We were donating full packets of pads and tampons and they were donating brown paper bags with chocolates and sanitary items in them,’ she said.
Ms Rust said it boggled her mind how much money Share The Dignity had received in recent years.
‘It’s mental and unnecessary,’ she said. ‘If they’re spending a million dollars addressing this issue then we shouldn’t be in business … it’s incomprehensible.’
The South Australian charity said like Melbourne, it was also having to pick-up the items collected on behalf of Share The Dignity.
‘We regularly get contacted by people or organisations or groups that have collected product for Share The Dignity and they contact them to no avail and they’re just left with a bunch of items that they thought they were collecting for people who need them,’ she said.
Woolworths was contacted late on Friday afternoon for comment and released the following statement.
“Our partnership with Share the Dignity is aimed at supporting their work in providing much needed sanitary items to homeless women and victims of domestic violence across Australia and helping support their efforts to end period poverty.
“We are confident the products being donated as part of the Dignity Drive are being distributed to those in need, in communities across Australia, by the thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly to support Share the Dignity.”